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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
String Quartet in G minor Op.27 (1877-78) [35.54]
David Monrad JOHANSEN
(1888-1974)

String Quartet Op.35 (1969) [18.58]
Julius RÖNTGEN
(1855-1932)

Quartettino in A minor (1922) [9.27]
Matangi Quartet
Recorded at the Lutherske Kerk, Goulda, the Netherlands
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72137
[64.21]

Though the word Scandinavia, which is blazoned on one of the booklet pages, may seem inappropriate for Röntgen he had strong connections with Grieg, whose second quartet he completed and edited for performance. There’s certainly some cachet for the Matangi Quartet who have given what must be one of the very few recordings of the 1922 Quartettino – so called because of its length. It is coupled with the equally little known but much later and very different quartet of David Monrad Johansen. Perhaps inevitably these are harnessed to the Grieg Quartet in G minor. I appreciate the commercial imperatives that might have suggested it, though another novelty would have been of even greater interest – another of the Röntgen quartets would have been valuable given their undeserved absence from concert programmes and recording studios.

The Quartettino was written as Röntgen approached retirement, something I’d thought might have been the case but which was not mentioned in the booklet notes. I had to go the composer’s website, since Cobbett’s Encyclopaedia generally only refers to his earlier 1870s and 1880s chamber works. This is a work suffused with his warm-hearted lyricism and a certain amount of veiled yearning all subsumed in the first movement at least to moments of chaste Renaissance profile. At less than ten minutes this two-movement work hardly outstays its welcome; so brisk and joyful is the slim second movement that I played it again for sheer delight.

Johansen’s 1969 Quartet has its moments of abrasion and discord but also much that is quiet, or at least quiescent, and decidedly interior with the music at points coming to a standstill. The second movement, an Allegro Vivace, functions as a nimble, witty, textually free Scherzo whilst the slow movement is the heart of work – a viola-warm and effectively sustained Largo whose long, often unison lines contain the odd ecstatic outburst. For me however the passage in the finale in which a Renaissance-sounding canon emerges is the most arresting moment. This unfolds gently, to be banished by more dramatically incursive writing, only to reappear – unchanged and serene; a most beautifully constructed movement and it’s something that links it to the Röntgen.

I quite enjoyed the performance of the Grieg; it’s a relatively lightly bowed account when judged against some of the disc-leaders in this work and apt therefore to sound a little undernourished. There are also moments when rhythms aren’t sprung as tightly as they might be. It’s certainly not an over-lingering or sentimental reading – the Romanze is rather dry-eyed – and when you go back to the classic 1930s Budapest Quartet set, now on Biddulph, you find an exhilarating sense of weight and colour and invincible rhythmic drama.

It would have been good to have some historical or contextual background notes for the two less-well known works but with decent sound these novelties certainly make their mark.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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