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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Chamber Music

String Quartet No. 1 in G minor Op. 27
String Quartet No. 2 in F major (completed by Julius Röntgen)
Raphael Quartet
Recorded 19-22 April 1993, English Church, Begijnhof, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F major Op. 8
Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major Op. 13
Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor Op. 45
Ivan Zenatý (violin)
Antonin Kubalek (piano)
Recorded October 1995, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy USA
Cello Sonata in A minor Op. 36
Robert Cohen (cello)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
Recorded 1980, Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London
Fugue in F minor for string quartet
Raphael Quartet
Andante con moto for piano trio, in C minor
Ramy Koch (violin) Henk Lambooij (cello) Jet Röling (piano)
April 1993, English Church Begijnhof, Amsterdam
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92176 [3 CDs 65'06 + 66'11 + 40'37]

Brilliant continues to license some interesting material and to harness it, often, in comprehensive box sets. This Grieg chamber music collection has picked up on Dorian, Olympia and CRD issues and the results are rather mixed though seldom less than attractive. The Violin Sonatas are played by the Czech pairing of Ivan Zenatý and Antonin Kubalek and I have to say that unfortunately theirs are the weakest performances in the set. I’ve heard good things about Zenatý but here he seems inhibited, particularly in the C minor. His rather steely tone and fast vibrato, coupled with a penchant for slow tempi and etiolated phrasing are not to these works’ advantage. For all the delicacy he and Kubalek cultivate (and they do – there’s a great deal of sensitivity and pliancy) there are moments of torpor – in the first movement of the C minor – and places, such as the Allegro con brio of the First Sonata, when he is simply too slow. Listen to Grumiaux or to Shumsky and you will hear far greater elasticity, drive and use of colouristic and expressive devices.

The Cohen/Vignoles recording of the Cello Sonata is much better; it’s alert, decisive, and catches the agitato instruction very well. The recording is well balanced and attractive and captures Vignoles’ excellently weighted chording in the second movement as well as it does the rather Piano Concerto style writing at the conclusion of the First. Perhaps the most intriguing disc is devoted to the Quartets – the familiar G minor and the much less familiar (and incomplete) F major in this completion by his colleague and friend Julius Röntgen. The acoustic accorded the Raphael Quartet is arresting; their opening chords leap out in the Second Quartet. The extant parts are the first two movements whilst the last two were left in sketch form only. Big, broad and lyrical with melodies spun seemingly across bar lines there are some refreshing things in the first movement as indeed there are in the flighty, fighting Scherzo – with its beautiful lyrical trio section. Röntgen filled in Grieg’s sketches for the Andante adding a few passages where the sketches are absent but in the finale he has indulged in some wholesale reworking, adapting older sketches intended for, but never used in, the First Quartet. Grieg’s hand can most seen in the Adagio – agitated in places, thinning to lone voices in others. The First Quartet receives a perfectly acceptable performance but turn to the classic Budapest Quartet reading from 1937 and you can hear what real rhythmic incision and tumultuous romantic tonal variety can do with this work. The Raphael are not ungenerous, exactly, but they don’t really plumb the depths. There are a couple of bonuses; a ‘prentice work from his Leipzig days - a Fugue for Quartet (not the kind of thing one would expect from him) but expert enough and an Andante con moto for Piano Trio, all that survives of a projected Trio

The notes cover the compositional ground very adeptly but the performances are rather variable.

Jonathan Woolf

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