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Karl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
String Quartet Op.8 in B flat major (1860) [31.17]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet Op.13 in A minor (1827) [29.53]
Klenke Quartet (Annegret Klenke: violin; Beate Hartmann: violin; Yvonne Uhlemann: viola; Ruth Kaltenhäuser: cello)
rec. Hans Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden, SWR 7-8 December 1998, 2-4 May 2001



The Austro-Hungarian composer Karl Goldmark, possibly known today only for occasional performances of his Rustic Wedding symphony and violin concerto, had the Viennese-based violinist Joseph Hellmesberger in mind when he wrote his string quartet Op. 8. Hellmesberger initially rejected it as ‘short-winded in its themes’. This must have come as a great disappointment to this entirely self-educated man. As one of a family of 21 children, of which only 12 survived, Goldmark learned the basics of music and violin playing from a chorister in his village on the Austro-Hungarian border before moving to the capital to live with an older brother and take lessons from a member of the Imperial orchestra. ‘I composed merrily without the slightest knowledge about harmony let alone counterpoint. ... I had no inkling of the existence of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven’. This was rectified in 1847 when he studied with Böhm before the 1848 revolutions in Europe forced the Conservatoire to shut down. After years of teaching, theatre playing, and arranging, Goldmark organised a concert of his own works in 1858 and, when it flopped, he did so again just over a year later. It was at this second event in 1860 that this, his only string quartet scored such a great success that it converted Hellmesberger to Goldmark’s cause. Its structure is entirely classical, with much of that by now mastered counterpoint in the finale, but presumably because the virtuoso Hellmesberger was its dedicatee, it also makes more demands upon the first violin than his three colleagues. That should read ‘her’ because the Klenke Quartet is all-female. They give it a stylish performance, in particular a fizzing scherzo with a beautifully controlled ending, and make a convincing case for hearing the work more often. By the way, the booklet translation from German to English falls into the trap of describing the key of the work as B rather than B flat; for that the original would have had to have been H; but then Grove 6 (1980) gets it wrong too, for in that worthy tome it appears in D.

Goldmark’s operas (the ‘best known’ being The Queen of Sheba or The Cricket on the Hearth) were sucked into the wake of the great Wagnerian ship then sailing the world’s seas, whilst his chamber music followed strictly the line of Mendelssohn. It makes a felicitous coupling therefore to record the two composers on this disc. The latter is represented by his 1827 A minor quartet, written a year after the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It too had a violinist to champion it, this time Ferdinand David, dedicatee of the violin concerto. Mendelssohn, unlike Goldmark, was both popular and successful, and also had the cushion of coming from a rich family. This quartet has a dotted-rhythm motif running through it and taken from an earlier love song Op.9 No.1. The words to the motif in its original setting form the question ‘Ist es wahr?’ (‘Is it true?’). The music is passionate in the first two movements, the scherzo has the song theme accompanied by pizzicato textures, while the finale is dramatic to the end. The Klenke Quartet (formed in 1994 at Weimar) give a wonderfully poised account, intelligently phrased, intensely expressive in the more fired-up moments - in particular the recitativo style which appear at various points in the finale - while brilliant and light as a feather in the scherzo. In particular listen out for reminiscences of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 2.00 and 5.00 on track 8.

This fine disc is the fourth in the Klenke’s discography, the other three being Mozart’s Quartets K.378/421, Haydn Op.77 No.2/Webern Six Bagatelles Op.9/Debussy String Quartet Op.10, and Mozart Quartet K.156/Shostakovich’s seventh/Tchaikovsky Op. 11. This string quartet, which I commend highly, does not seem to have performed in the UK, something which should be remedied as soon as possible.

Christopher Fifield

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