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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
String Quartet in g minor, Op. 27 (1878)
String Quartet No.2 in F major (1891, completed by Julius Röntgen)
Fugue in F minor (1861)
Andante con moto in c minor for Piano Trio (1878, perf. 1908, pub.1978)
Jet Röling (piano)
Raphael Quartet (Ronald Hoogeveen, violin; Ramy Koch, violin; Zoltan Benyacz, viola; Henk Lambooij, cello)
rec. April 1993, English Church, Begijnhof, Amsterdam. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English.
REGIS RRC1279 [78:29]

The centenary of Grieg’s death is bringing a steady stream of new and reissued recordings.  Inevitably many of these feature the Piano Concerto, like the Virgin reissue of the first Andsnes recording, coupled with some of Grieg’s solo piano music and Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto, which I recently reviewed (3913692 - see review).  When I wrote that review I was not aware that EMI were about to reissue Andsnes’ second recording, with the Berlin PO and Jansons, with the Schumann Concerto, a more conventional coupling which many will prefer (5 03419 2).  For a pound or so more than the Virgin version, this would now be my prime recommendation, alongside the Kovacevich, though the Devoyon version would still be very recommendable if CFP were to reissue it.
The centenary is also bringing rarer fruit, including two versions, both at bargain price, of the youthful Symphony which Grieg himself sought to ban.  Ian Lace recently reviewed the Naxos version (8.557991 - see review): “Grieg’s ‘forbidden’ Symphony in C minor might be derivative, nevertheless it is a real find.  An altogether delightful programme with all the freshness of a Norwegian spring.”  At much the same bargain price Eloquence have reissued the Bergen PO version with Karsten Andersen, coupled with Jesus Lopez-Cobos’s version of the delectable Goldmark Rustic Wedding Symphony (476 8743).  As a lover of the Goldmark – an erstwhile Beecham speciality – I’d probably go for the Eloquence version.
Alongside the two bargain-price issues of the Symphony, we now also have two reissues in the same lowest price category of Grieg’s String Quartet, both coupled with completions of his unfinished Second Quartet.  The Regis version first appeared on the Olympia label and is one of a considerable number of welcome resuscitations which Regis is performing of recordings from defunct labels.  The other version, from the Chilingirian Quartet, comes on Hyperion’s Helios label (CDH55299).
Grieg completed only the first two movements of the Second Quartet and it is sometimes performed in this incomplete form.  Whereas the Regis version offers Julius Röntgen’s completion of the other two movements, two substantial re-workings weighing in at 7:29 and 6:06, the Hyperion employs Levon Chilingirian’s own, much shorter, completion – 6:09 and 3:24 – both working from Grieg’s own sketches.  It might seem that the longer Röntgen completions, especially of the finale, outstay their welcome, but such is not the case, particularly when as well played as they are here.
In 1891 Grieg composed the first two movements of this Second Quartet but never got round to completing what he dismissed as “unfinished like an old Norwegian cheese.”  Cheesy or not, his friend Julius Röntgen arranged a performance, with Casals, no less, playing the second violin as if it were a cello, and became convinced that the work was worth completing.  The Raphael version on this CD was the world-premiere recording of the Röntgen completion, albeit that they made some alterations to the finale.
The Röntgen completion has received critical praise in the past and, for this reason, together with the fact that the Regis offers much more music than the Hyperion – 78:29 against 64:25 – many will prefer this version.  Levon Chilingirian explains in some detail the rationale behind his own completion in the notes in the booklet accompanying the original Hyperion issue: I imagine that, as usual, the Helios reissue offers a full reprint of all the original material.  If not, it is available online.  The Hyperion notes are generally fuller than the Regis, though the latter are more adequate than those provided with many budget-price CDs.
Those wishing to make up their own minds about the Hyperion reissue will find a considerable sample online: the third movement of the First Quartet.  The approach of the two groups in this movement is very similar, with mere seconds difference in timing, the Chilingirian version taking 6:49 and the Raphael 6:45.  Elsewhere the Chilingirians shave a few seconds off the Raphael timings for the first two movements and take longer over the finale.  The differences are most apparent in the first movement (12:00 against 12:20) where I did feel at times that the Raphael tempo was a little too slow. 
Otherwise the Raphael Quartet offer good performances and the recording generally does them full justice.  The very opening of the First Quartet is just a little raw-sounding but that is mostly due to the thickness of Grieg’s texture in this quartet and the ear soon adjusts to the warm, mellow sound.  Grieg shrugged off Hanslick’s criticism of the unorthodox thickness of texture of his writing with the support of Liszt, who thought the work ‘distinctive and admirable’. 
The texture of the Second Quartet is much lighter, with playing and recording to match.  I could well imagine some listeners preferring it to the First Quartet.
In addition to the two quartets, Regis offer two fragments – a Fugue in f for string quartet, the only surviving fragment of the disowned youthful Quartet in d, and an Andante con moto for piano trio from the same year as the First Quartet.  Neither piece is earth-shattering.  Grieg’s own annotations suggest dissatisfaction with the trio-movement and even Röntgen, having organised a concert performance, decided not to publish it.  These movements also receive sympathetic and able performances, supported by Jet Röling in the trio.
Most people will probably prefer the Hyperion artwork.  The Regis cover, a 1905 painting of Oslo in the snow, is attractive enough but somehow manages to look like the cover of a bargain-price CD.  It’s partly due to the fact that Regis always do a full-cover reproduction of their artwork whereas Naxos manage to look classier by reproducing their paintings with plenty of white surround … but then the Helios cover is also bled, with no margin.
This Regis CD offers excellent value.  It should be noted, however, for those wanting more, that these Raphael Quartet performances are also available on Brilliant Classics, in a collection of Grieg’s Chamber Music (Brilliant 92176, 3 CDs for around £8.50) and in a 21-CD overview of Grieg’s orchestral, chamber and piano music and songs (Brilliant 93516 for around £45 in the UK).  For those wanting less, the First Quartet is available from the New Helsinki Quartet on Warner Apex, coupled with the Sibelius Quartet (09027 40601 2, at bargain price).
Regis offer a recommendable selection of Grieg’s piano music, played by Håkon Austbø on RRC1071.  They also have a number of other chamber-music recordings in their catalogue which are well worth investigating.  Chief among them are the Shostakovich Quartet’s versions of the complete Shostakovich Quartets (RRC5001, 5 CDs, also available separately) and the complete Tchaikovsky Quartets (RRC2071, again also available separately).
Brian Wilson


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