Charisma and consummate skill: Merel Quartet in Zurich


"Given the house rules in light of corona, concertgoers were welcomed by a handful of masked staff at the Tonhalle Maag, and took their seats directly in a hall that was about one-third full. Tickets had to be ordered online; the box office was closed. There were neither refreshments at the bar nor the usual conversations in the foyer. Without interruption, the slated programme would last some 70 minutes. Despite those limitations, however, the Merel Quartet’s superb players gave a stunning performance. 

Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet no. 26 in G minor, Op.20 no.3, which dates from 1772, was first on the programme. Considered the first composer of stature to establish the genre as a distinctive musical form, Haydn wrote 68 string quartets, each one distinguished by its rich harmonies and playful exploration of counterpoint. True to form, the Merel’s interpretation showed the G minor Op.20 full of whimsy, humour and striking wit. That Goethe compared the playing of a string quartet with “a conversation among four educated people” comes as no surprise: the work masterfully draws out the instruments’ individual voices in turn, each player defining passages with his or her own charisma, intelligence and consummate skill. 


In the Allegro con spirito first movement, cellist Rafael Rosenfeld shook up the house with his energetic attacks, albeit he was challenged for dramatic effect by Alessandro D’Amico’s highly animated viola. First violin Mary Ellen Woodside gave distinct and precise direction, and her line was consistently crisp and transparent, and often emotive; she met Edouard Mätzener’s animated second violin with rotund and luxurious sound. In the second movement, the melodic elements resounded among all four players almost like a folksong, while in the third, Poco adagio, the sound was sensuous. Rosenfeld’s substantive solo cello therein, full of resonance and body, might best be described as transcendent. Woodside’s first violin launched the Allegro molto finale with energy that was followed, in turn, by the demonstrative voice of D’Amico’s viola, and lots of physical action: he leaned out towards his music stand again and again, smiling at the other players, too, through their intricate harmonies.  


Second on the programme was Death and the Maiden, which Schubert wrote in 1817 in response to the poem by Matthias Claudius. The work describes both the terrors and the comforts offered by the “grisly man of bone”: Death. While in the first movement, a dark and murky background was broken up by the strings’ restless strikes, the second movement started with the inklings of a tender lullaby, then moved to sounds more unrestrained, and was hallmarked by a resonant cello solo. Mätzener often shifted his legs to ground himself beneath his chair as he, too, played through demanding and highly animated passages, and, in the Scherzo, from lyrical to more largely expressive lines. In the final Presto, which includes a tarantella – an Italian dance hallmarked by its breakneck speed – Schubert clearly intended turbulence and tragedy to reign. And it was here, the strings all enjoyed a collective fabric of sounds that ranged in dramatic shifts from the lyrical and lullaby to the highly-pointed and feverish. Corona or none, the Merel Quartet gave a truly superb and unforgettable performance."

Bachtrack, 22 September 2020



Fantasy and Lament

"Their warm, centered and captivatingly homogenous sound, and their communicative and energetic ensemble playing become quickly apparent in concert ...  In the interpretation (of Bartok's sixth string quartet) the Merel Quartet allows the presence of heaviness without letting it dominate.  The musicians give a stormy vitality to the first movement and just the right amount of exaggeration and broken irony to the folkloric passages of the second and third -- until finally in the last movement the menacing heaviness entrancingly prevails."

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 27. 4. 2015


Merel Quartet in the „Old Aula“ in Heidelberg

„Sound culture, maturity of expression, command of form and style:  the  winning qualities of the [Merel Quartet] seemed to convey themselves even more powerfully in Bartok’s sixth string quartet from 1939.  For the, in comparison to the previous work [Mozart’s KV 465], more concentrated Idiom, the musical guests found just the right mixture of passion and precision.  The folkloric middle movements are seldom heard with such rich coloration and the high lyric intensity of the slow Finale was an impressive demonstration of the „Merels“ sublime Bartok-Touch.

Beethoven’s monumental F major quartet Op 59 Nr.1 crowned the evening in an irresistably vital and delicate interpretation which would have delighted Brendel as much as it did the audience.  The centerpiece of this compelling rendition was the f minor adagio, in which most notably Mary Ellen Woodside and Rafael Rosenfeld  could demonstrate their soloistic artistry.  In return for the enthusiastic applause, the swiss ensemble performed the „Allegretto pizzicato“ from Bartok’s fourth quartet.“

Rhein-Neckar Zeitung, 17th Jan., 2015


Breathtaking Pianissimo

„An unforgettable interpretation. [The Merel Quartet’s] exploration of Schubert’s inner turmoil, how they created a shadowy stillness in pianissimo, was breathtaking.  The two celli joined in the first movement in a soaring duet; a full, almost orchestral sonority alternated with delicate slivers of sound; out of darkest anguish emerged celestial light. Like a choral prayer, the adagio’s dissonances repeatedly pulled to their consoling resolutions, and its absolute tranquility in the outer sections left a deep impression.  The stormy middle section was tackled with vehemence, as was the scherzo.  The trio marked a return to the calm of the adagio, which seemed here paler, glassy, darker. In the allegretto, exuberance seemed at first to prevail, but after passages of otherworldly stillness, the dance became more and more fevered... The [Merel Quartet with Natalia Gutman] formed a completely homogenous ensemble; their music-making was intense and harmonious, a collaboration at the highest level.“

Neue Luzerner Zeitung, 21.07.2014


Merel Quartet Plays Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn

"This is a stunning recording, brimming with life and longing, and sustained by an intelligent sense of line. The quartet's devotion to bringing across each of the two quartets as complete, unfolding constructions makes the experience all the more poignant. Gorgeous.

The cover of the new recording by the excellent, Zurich-based Merel Quartet features a loving vision of Lucerne done in watercolors. The artist is composer Felix Mendelssohn, who had traveled there to regain his strength and peace of mind after the death of his sister, Fanny. The siblings were close in a deep, almost unfathomable way. Both of them were unnaturally talented. Both were nurtured in a cultivated environment. Fanny gave Felix invaluable advice. They trusted each other profoundly.

Felix was devastated at the loss of his sister. She died of complications from a stroke, suffered while rehearsing one of her brother’s oratorios. Felix died six months later of the same cause.

This new recording features the String Quartet in F minor by Mendelssohn, begun as a sketch while in Switzerland. Also featured is Fanny’s String Quartet in E-flat, played with love, warmth and mastery."

Cathy Fuller's New and Notable Releases ,  Boston Public Radio, WGBH


A Feeling for Contrasts

"It is mesmerizing the way the four musicians play Brahms' String Quartet Nr 2, how they arrange and illuminate its finespun strands, showing their intricate relationships to each other.  Even the first few measures are ingrained with highly subtle phrasing and ethereal melodic lines -- a gentle back-and-forth rocking commences.  And then, like a scream, a unison passage rips apart the fabric: the yearning dream is over. A feeling for contrasts:  sensitivity, nervosity, passion, attentive listening and responding, here tenderness and depth of feeling, then a flaring up; all of these contrasts define Brahms' as well as Schumann's second string quartets.  Base showing off is avoided, although the sheer joy of some of Schumann's more extrovert passages cannot be ignored.  The Merel Quartet has a real propensity for the composition's floating quality, dream gestures and ambivalence.  The ensemble demonstrates a terrific dynamism, stylistic authority and an extraordinary sense of contrasts."

Zürcher Tages Anzeiger, (Zürich)  10. 05. 2011


Permeated with a feverish intensity, with close attention to detail and exquisitely balanced illumination of the voices…”  

“…their sound, agile and transparent, with a wide range of tonal colors, is irresistible.”  (Das Orchester)

Thomas Bopp,  “Das Orchester”, 11/2011



The Terrible Beauty of Music

Jealousy, rage, murder:  with Tolstoy music doesn’t transport one to a better world, but leads directly to ruin. His novel „Kreutzer Sonata“ ranks at first place in describing the potentially disastrous effect of music.   This was the central motive of a matinee in the series „Literature and Music“...  which, with an outstanding group of artists, delivered a full hall and an exciting ninety minutes for the public...

...The Merel Quartet’s concentrated interpretation of Janacek’s string quartet nr 1 demonstrated that inner tension is not dependant on superficial effects.  Founded in 2002, the quartet captivated with their subtle drawing of the musical characters and evoked an atmosphere fluctuating between longing, pity and danger.


Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 15.11.2009



The Passion of a Quartet

The Merel Quartet, together now for seven years, has secured a position as one of the most interesting young chamber music ensembles.  Their first CD may well be understood as an avowal:  not only in terms of the immediacy of the interpretation, but also with regard to repertoire.  The centerpiece of the release is the three-movement first string quartet „Ph(r)ases“ by the 34-year-old Swiss composer David Philip Hefti:  expressive music, which, with its richly woven textures, expanded vocabulary of sounds and declamatory gestures, lays a path to the other two works on the CD by referring to the love affairs of Clara and Robert Schumann as well as Kamila Stösslová and Léoš Janáček.  The Merel Quartet plays this romanticizing, subjective novelty, whose volatility and almost manic motivic repetitions do indeed remind one of Janáček, with the same enthusiasm as the older works.  Schumann’s a minor quartet Op. 41 nr.1 is presented with transparency and clarity, with healthy yet elegant tone and deep reflection, as rich in tonal variety as Janáček’s second string quartet „Intimate Letters“.  The fluctuations between despair and bliss are seldom achieved so unobtrusively yet at the same time with such depth of feeling.

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 13.11.2009         


New to the Festspiel-Podium

"The Merel Quartet from Zürich, a young ensemble of wonderfully devoted and tonally exceedingly well-matched musicians, ventured a performance of Arnold Schönberg's String Quartet in F-sharp minor Opus 10 with soprano Ruth Ziesak ... a highly differentiated perspective by the Merel Quartet, only slightly roughened. "

Wiener Zeitung (Vienna)  13. 8. 2008


The Merel Quartet's interpretation (of Schubert's Quartet 'Death and the Maiden') deserves the highest commendation. The technical brilliance of the first violinist, the fiery playing of the second, the warm sonority of the violist, and the formal structure, cleverly shaped by the cellist, left nothing to be desired.  It was wonderful to hear the second movement, in all its solemnity, expressing less the inexorability of death and the intolerability of fate, but rather suggesting a promise of hope.“

Thurgauer Zeitung, 20.1.2007