Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

NIELSEN String Quartets
Vol. 1 (Op. 14 in Eb and Op. 44 in F major)
Oslo String Quartet
8.553907 57'

Vol. 2 (No. 2, Op.5 in F minor & No. 1, Op.13 in G minor)
Naxos 8.553908 62'

Vol. 1 (No. 1, Op. 13 in G minor & No. 4, Op. 44 in F major) with Little Suite Op. 1
Zapolski Quartet
Chandos CHAN 9635

Vol. 2 (No. 2, Op. 5 in F minor & No. 3, Op. 14 in Eb)
Zapolski Quartet
Chandos CHAN 9817

Carl Nielsen's string quartets are an interesting byway in his development. They are also, as the above listing will suggest, something of a minefield of confusion in their nomenclature. The problem arises because the first to be composed (apart from an earlier, unpublished one) was completed in 1888 and revised as Op. 13 ten years later. The Eb quartet was performed in 1899, then the manuscript was lost on the way to the printers and it was reconstructed from memory the next year, revised in 1919 & published in 1923. The F minor was written in 1890 and published first. Op. 19 in 1906 became the Op. 44 in 1919. I hope that makes it all clear?

What about the music? It is all relatively early. The G minor in its revised version showed Nielsen's voice emerging and the F major has a clarity of texture, unusual key relationships and chromatic twists which extend classical tonality. It is pleasant music, but the essential Nielsen remains in his orchestral music, and they are unlikely to enter the string quartet canon.

Both Scandinavian quartets play well. Volume 1 of the Chandos has a bonus, Nielsen's remarkably assured Op. 1, which was soon followed by his remarkable first symphony. This Little Suite for strings is usually played by string orchestra. The Zapolski's eponymous leader has arranged it for string quartet, in which form it sounds perfectly idiomatic - there is no information what was involved in the arrangement.

None of this is decisive for choice. The Naxos is of course the cheaper choice. It may need a little attenuation of the treble at times. The Zapolski's have a smoother recorded sound, which many would prefer. You get different couplings and either set rates a general rating of about three stars in my book. I would advise sampling if possible before committing yourself.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Philip Scowcroft

Reviews from previous months

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