Volkmar ANDREAE (1879-1962)
Quartet for flute, violin, viola and violoncello Op. 43 (1945) [15.09]
String Quartet No. 2 in E flat major Op. 33 (1922) [22.55]
String Quartet No. 1 (1905) [37.27]
Lochrian Ensemble of London; Anna Noakes (flute)
rec. St. Paul’s School, New Southgate, London, 8-9 July 2008, 31 January 2009
GUILD GMCD 7328 [75.33]

Guild is to be congratulated again for their enterprise in bringing to us another practically unknown figure. I must admit that the Swiss composer Volkmar Andreae has been a new name to me. Indeed I was so ignorant of him that I vaguely thought recollected that he was named ‘Andreae Volkman’ (!) but as Robert Matthew-Walker says in his fascinating booklet notes Andreae’s “music manifestly does not deserve the neglect which has befallen it”.

The First Quartet is, for some reason placed third on the disc. It falls into four movements with German titles which I will attempt to translate as we go along. You could be forgiven for feeling that Richard Strauss is looking over the younger composer’s shoulder. It is a very neatly balanced work formally. The outer movements are of almost the same length and share some material. The inner ones are also of equal length, so that after two movements you have reached the exact half-way point. Movement 1 (‘quite fast tempo’) is a slightly wayward Sonata-form allegro and its opening idea returns in the finale. Movement two is a Scherzo (‘fast as possible’) which is almost in arch-form. Its B section is reminiscent of a stamping peasant dance which falls, it seems to me, somewhere between Dvořák and Bartók. The slow third movement (marked ‘very free in performance’) is not especially memorable but is basically cello-led. The finale (Lively-moving) is partially fugal and earnest but stretches its material about as far as it deserves. Nevertheless the quartet, which weighs in at well over the half-hour is worth getting to know but was obviously written by a young composer who has a tendency to be a little too prolix.

The Second Quartet which opens the disc dates from four years after the Great War. Stylistically Andreae has moved on. Nevertheless it could probably thought of as a conservative work. Cast in four movements the first and third are of equal length - the second and fourth being a Scherzo and a carefree finale being shorter and lighter. The elegiac slow movement is quite intense and moving and acts as a suitable foil to the two either side of it. I was trying to think of a composer that might be invoked as an influence and it is quite difficult. Only Gabriel Fauré vaguely came to mind. The booklet notes mention Albéric Magnard. It would be ‘over-egging the pudding’ to say that the sound-world of the composer is completely original. Anyway Andreae’s style moved on again and French influences did increase further ahead of those early Germanic ones.

Sandwiched between Andreae’s two quartets is a brief Quartet for flute and string trio. Written in 1945, again it would have appeared conservative yet one cannot quite think when else it might have been composed. It consists of four movements. The form is rather unusual, beginning with a light and airy brief preamble followed by a short Adagio. Andreae then re-opens as it were, his opening Molto vivace before a beautiful slow first half to the last movement. This in turn flies off into the breezy Molto Vivace again. No note is wasted and it is all over far too soon. The performance is also delightful; and catches the mood perfectly. The language lies somewhere between Poulenc and something pastoral almost Vaughan Williams-like. I really fell in love with this piece. Anna Noakes’ tone quality and phrasing are quite delicious and add to the wonder of it.

I must comment on Robert Matthew-Walker’s booklet notes. Although of some interest I do feel that for a composer so little known as Volkmar Andreae a little more biography or indeed musical analysis and insight would have been helpful. A discursive overview of the String Quartet medium or as he calls ‘The Historic Perspective’ is unnecessary and represents a wasted opportunity.

The recording is excellent and the performance marvellously committed and intelligent. It is difficult to imagine how they could be improved. One feels as if the Lochrian ensemble (whose varied biography is offered in booklet) has known this music for many years. Perhaps their baptism in recording of the Piano Trios two years ago (GMCD 7307) has enabled such confident playing in such unfamiliar repertoire.

All in all this disc is worth exploring and I hope for more to come.

Gary Higginson