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Alexander GRECHANINOV (1864-1956)
String Quartets: Volume 2
Quartet Op.75 (1915) [37.06]
Quartet Op.124 (1929) [31.24]
Utrecht String Quartet
rec. Delft, March and October 2005



This is presumably the final volume of the Utrecht Quartet’s traversal of the Grechaninov quartets, unless there are unpublished items yet to emerge.

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.

Jonathan Woolf






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