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Johan WIKMANSON (1753-1800)
String Quartets Op.1 Nos.1-3
String Quartet No.1 in D minor
String Quartet No.2 in E minor
String Quartet No.3 in B flat major
Fresk Quartet (No.1)
Berwald Quartet (No.2)
Nils-Erik Sparf and Per Sandklef (violins), Björn Sjögren (viola) and Bengt Ericson (cello) (No.3)
Recorded Studio2, Swedish Radio, Stockholm, November 1983 (No.1) and June 1984 (No.2); Concert Hall of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music, February and March 1985 (No.3)
PROPRIUS PRCD 9114 [64.01]


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Wikmanson plied his unlikely trade as a professional accountant working for the new Swedish National Lottery. He also pursued concurrent musical appointments as an organist and as a significant figure in the musical and cultural life of his country though it was the nature of his profession that he was regarded as something of a musical amateur, a judgement that was reflective of the relative social standings of official accountant and mere composer, organist and cellist.

The quartets here were published posthumously and canít be dated with any real degree of accuracy. They do however represent his major contribution to musical posterity and were dedicated on the title page of the first edition by Wikmansonís wife to Haydn, a fact that establishes definitively where the Swedish composerís affinities lay. These are felicitous, well-constructed, well-argued and musical works. They donít establish any great precedent nor do they show him as a thinker much beyond Haydnís hegemony but as a sidelight on Haydnís profound influence on specifically quartet composition in the last quarter of the eighteenth century they are salutary. The D minor flirts with fugato in its opening movement but falls back on an attractive series of imitative entries, charmingly deployed and aerated. I was more struck by the Adagio in which a rather grandiloquent beginning is followed by some meltingly affecting writing Ė and powerful work for the first violin in the cadential end and a concluding unison bleakness. He can write a perky landler in the Minuet Ė complete with elegant aloofness Ė and a bustly pizzicato strong finale. In the E minor heís adept at exploiting quite short paragraphal writing to create an air of tension and also manages to deploy some earthy Haydnesque drollery. The adagio is in Haydnís best variational form but the finale is rather lacking in distinction and the first violin plays a little roughly as well. Thereís certainly something sprightly about the B flat majorís opening movement and a real sense of wistfulness and also elegance in the Romance second movement. Even these are topped however by the joyful and artless finale which is pure pleasure from first bar to last.

On balance itís the first of the trio of Quartets that is the most completely impressive and whilst hardly of profoundly elevated status, the accountant-composer reveals himself to be an attractive melodist and a skilful architect of musical structure. Performances are pretty good from all three quartet groups and performances derive from Swedish Radio broadcasts from 1983-85; the group led by Nils-Erik Sparf play on period instruments.

Jonathan Woolf



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