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
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.