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Joseph Martin KRAUS (1756-1792)
String Quartets: in G major VB187 Op.1 No.6 [21.07]; in C minor VB179 [7.42]; in E majorVB180 [18.01]; in G minor VB 183 Op.1 No.3 [10.22]; in B major VB 181 Op.1 No.2 [12.20]
Salagon Quartet
rec. SWR Studios, Stuttgart, December 2005. DDD
CARUS 83.194 [69.32]

Kraus seems to be flavour of the month. His German Songs have just been issued by Naxos.

I doubt his String Quartets would lead to riots in the stalls. He was a contemporary of Mozart, surviving him by only a year. The influence on the quartets however is more likely to have been Haydn and, further back, C.P.E. Bach. The collection that formed Op.1 was collected from pre-existing works. Itís possible that some had been written by 1777 though the collection was published in 1784, two years after the publication of Haydnís Op.33 set. Of the set of six Ė we have half the set here Ė only one was written in four movements, Kraus preferring a compact three-movement form in the main.

The four-movement quartet was Op.1 No.6. Itís fluent, elegant and with the open ended folksiness of a second movement Scozzese. Kraus doubles the tempo in the central panel of the Largo, a well sustained if repetitious movement, and leads seamlessly to a whizzingly inconsequential finale. There are baroque hints, maybe also of C.P.E. Bach, in the C minor Quartet Ė a slight, two-movement work.

Of more substance and more individuality is the E major. Material is well distributed and the fare is full of strongly contrastive devices. Though itís not especially distinctive melodically the Adagio is warm and features one of Krausís deadpan abrupt closures; not Mozartian in wit, just rather sudden. This lack of resolution is an intermittent feature of his writing.

The G major Quartet has some fine fugal writing and a certain angularity of utterance that gives individuality to the writing, though the law of diminishing returns applies here with a pleasantly nondescript Romance and an inappropriately undeveloped Minuet finale. Of more interest is the aria-like beauty of the viola solo in the Largo of the B major, maybe the single most impressive movement here, and one that rouses speculation as to Krausís ability at larger scale operatic writing. The songs are generally strophic and, whilst often amusing or clever, seldom inspired.

The recorded sound in the Stuttgart studios and the performances are pretty good; care is taken over balance and I more than once noted precision over unison bow weight. That said I can imagine more characterful performances with a greater range of tone colours.

Jonathan Woolf


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