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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
String Quartet in E minor (1873)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Crisantemi (1890)
Three Fugues for string quartet (apprentice work)
Scherzo for string quartet(apprentice work)
Three Minuets in A major for string quartet (1892, rev. 1898)
Tempo di Quartetto for string quartet (apprentice work)
Quartetto David (Mauro Loguercio, Gabriele Baffero, violins; Antonio Leofreddi, viola; Marco Decimo, cello)
Recorded March 2001, Lanna Church, Sweden
BIS CD-1006 [55:22]

Puccini Comparison Ė Quartetto Puccini (ASV CD DCA 909)
Verdi Comparison Ė Melos Quartett (Harmonia Mundi 901671)

Among the few greatest and most popular composers of opera, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini are not known for their chamber works. However, Verdi did compose one chamber work, his String Quartet in E minor, and Puccini wrote a few pieces for string quartet. Recordings of these works are not abundant, but new ones appear every few years.

Verdiís contribution to the string quartet literature is not a student work, but composed when he was sixty years old while engaged in rehearsals of Aida in Naples. Verdi wrote his E minor String Quartet as a pastime and exercise in four-part writing, having no intention of bringing the work to the public forum. As Verdi said, "the string quartet was a plant that was not suited to the Italian climate".

Pucciniís string quartet works are mostly from his student years. These early creations do not resemble the chamber works of a Brahms or DvořŠk. They take us back to the classical era of Mozart and Haydn; the Three Fugues go further back to Bachís time.

Some reviewers consider these student works mere trifles, but I canít agree. They are well-crafted, highly lyrical and sunny pieces that are delightful to listen to.

Comparisons of Pucciniís music between the Quartetto David and the Quartetto Puccini are not advantageous to the Quartetto David. The Quartetto Puccini plays exceptionally and conveys the sun-drenched Italian landscape. The Quartetto David is more cultured and darker in color, but these Puccini pieces do not well absorb a serious approach. Iím afraid that the Quartetto David tends to sound a little stodgy.

There is one Puccini work, the Fugue in C minor, where the Quartetto Davidís darker reading wins the day. The group almost makes the work sound similar to a Bach Art of Fugue movement. The Quartetto Puccini simply continues its upbeat ways and never grasps the contrasts in this excellent and intricate piece. As for Pucciniís most popular chamber work, the very sad "Crisantemi", I find that the Quartetto Puccini is more vital and emotionally charged.

The tables are turned when the Quartetto David and the Melos Quartett are compared in Verdiís String Quartet in E minor. Now it is the Quartetto David which gives a vital performance emphasizing the contrast between Verdiís lyricism and angst. The Melos Quartett is too smooth and restrained, rendering Verdiís music more ordinary than it really is.

From my view, the Puccini works are more enjoyable and rewarding than Verdiís String Quartet. For Verdi, the work was a diversion, and it shows all too well. The greatness of Verdi is not to be found in his only chamber work; the musicís flow is not as natural as in the operas, and the melodies arenít nearly as inspired or well developed.

In conclusion, those who want the Verdi String Quartet should find the Quartetto David a worthy choice. My best recommendation is to acquire the ASV disc to enjoy the better music and performances; it also has three fine chamber works from the pen of Alfredo Catalani who was a friend of Pucciniís. With excellent sound and over 70 minutes of music, this ASV recording easily bests the BIS offering from the Quartetto David.

Don Satz

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