This is presumably
the final volume of the Utrecht Quartet’s traversal of the
Grechaninov quartets, unless there are unpublished items yet
Though the notes
try to make a case for his cosmopolitan modernity, by the
time he came to write the 1915 quartet, his third, it’s clear
that Grechaninov’s models were, as before, a compound of Tchaikovsky
and Borodin. I certainly can’t find much trace here of the
alleged influence of Debussy, much less Scriabin. He has the
confidence to open with a Lento introduction though the subsequent
material is rather repetitious. The slow movement is typically
songful, Grechaninov being one of the most lyrically engaged
of composers, though it does field a rather galumphing series
of episodic motifs, and one supremely delightful moment of
unvarnished sentiment. He is however let down by the generic
and long-winded finale.
The later 1929
quartet plays a series of strange mirror games with the shade
of the motto theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The famous
theme is subject to a kind of inversion and is almost remorselessly
returned to throughout the length of the Allegro moderato.
The slow movement shows his debt to Borodin with greater clarity
than before. The first violin has some room for an aerial
trilling episode and for interplay with the viola. The sonata-form
scherzo is probably the pick of this quartet’s movements.
It embraces the folksy elements, from a lower string drone,
pizzicato folksiness and a certain, quiet elegance throughout.
If there are hints of modernity at all – and Grechaninov was
a staunch traditionalist – they come in the finale to this
quartet where there are hints of impressionism in the slow
introduction. By the time the vivo takes over however we have
retuned to the influences of Borodin and of Dvořák, whose
little rhythmic touches illuminate the writing.
As they’ve shown
in their performances before the Utrecht foursome have a particular
way with the Russian repertoire. I commend their well-balanced,
sympathetically warm performances. There are rivals; the Third
for example has been extremely well done by the Dante Quartet
on Dutton but they coupled it with Lyapunov’s Sextet, so that
tends to rule it out if you want to concentrate on Grechaninov.
But for a recommendable traversal of the four quartets the
Utrecht performances will take some beating.