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Bernhard MOLIQUE (1801-1869)
String Quartets Vol. 1
String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1 in F (1834) [29.31]
String Quartet Op. 18 No. 2 in a minor (1834) [28.48]
Mannheimer String Quartet: (Andreas Krecher (violin 1); Shinkyung Kim (violin 2); Niklas Schwarz (viola); Armin Framm (cello))
rec. 21-22 July, 26-27 April 2005, Kammermusikstudio des SWR Stuttgart
CPO 777 149-2 [58:29]

This disc has been quite a surprise.
In case you aren’t familiar with the composer, he was born in Nürnberg at the time of French occupation during the Napoleonic wars. He picked up the violin out of the various instruments to which his father introduced him. At 14, he presented himself to Spohr, who had come to Nürnberg on tour. Spohr recognized his talent, and remained a touchstone for Molique. Molique’s career as a violinist took him to the orchestras of Munich and also Vienna, where another formidable influence, already quite deaf, played his latest compositions on a terribly out of tune piano during a visit. Rather than cultivate a relationship, Molique fled the room.
In case you thought that, as occasionally happens, such works of 1834 are obscure for a reason, in this case the pieces have fire and focus, often recalling - indeed, insisting on recalling? - the Op. 18 Beethoven quartets. In this Op. 18, the scherzos have been replaced with minuets. The opening movements of these quartets by Molique have the Beethovenian emphasis on rhythm. Those familiar with Beethoven’s symphonies but not his chamber music could easily mistake these quartets as works by the early master of Romanticism. Surprisingly, though, the model Molique used in composing many of his works is not the gruff master of Vienna, but instead Louis Spohr. In listening to the pieces on this disc, however, it could be easily argued that the doffing of the hat is for Beethoven — Molique’s quartets Nos. 3-5 are all grouped significantly under Op. 18, and his 9th quartet was reserved for op. 59. Op. 18 No. 1 is also in the same key as Beethoven’s quartet with the same opus number; from the opening of the first theme, one can’t help but think of Beethoven’s first measures of his own quartet. This is no pale imitation, however. The piece stands well on its own and is a work of smiling confidence.
The second Op. 18 quartet has a far more meditative character, only occasionally displaying the masculine bravado so prevalent in the first. The furrowed brow still presides over the triple-meter first movement, giving whiffs of Schubert or Mendelssohn, but the overarching sky in the world of this piece remains the Beethoven of the middle quartets. Again, for pieces so little heard, the assurance and swagger that these pieces have is a surprise. Why are these not more often performed?
The production values of this disc fit in well with what one would expect of CPO, and the music is played with the assurance and solidity that these well-realized works demand.
David Blomenberg


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