It’s nice to see an ensemble of the Mandelring Quartett’s musical integrity and serious-mindedness let down its collective hair with an all-encore program. Among the disc’s highlights include relaxed yet supple readings of the Haydn “Bird” quartet Finale, elegantly turned early Mozart movements, plus a passionate and contrapuntally transparent Lento from Dvorák’s “American” quartet. The Scherzo from Félicien David’s Quartet abounds with delicious and tasteful portamentos, while the famous Andante cantabile from Tchaikovsky’s Op. 11 D major quartet gets a classically oriented reading that liberates the music from decades of slobbering build-up.
Arranger Jörg Widmoser imbues Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” with nifty percussive effects and shrieking glissandos, idiomatically and energetically served up by the players. However, the group’s stiff phrasing in the title selection, Pennies from Heaven, may be due to Bill Thorp’s equally stiff arrangement of the Arthur Johnston standard, complete with the rarely heard introductory verse. I also suspect that William Zinn’s arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s Syncopated Clock might have sounded less cluttered and hard-pressed in the climactic middle section had the Mandelrings taken the whole piece at a slower tempo, one closer to Anderson’s own orchestral recording. By contrast, W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” sounds very much at home in Matteo Giammario’s intimately scaled, conversational arrangement. All told, an enjoyable release.