Ernst Eichner appears to have been a musician of some note during
his lifetime, variously serving as concertmaster of the orchestra
at Pfalz-Zweibrücken, touring as a virtuoso bassoonist (!),
and garnering acclaim for his symphonic and chamber compositions
throughout Europe. His premature death in 1777 in Potsdam perhaps
accounts for his relative unfamiliarity today - so speculates
Bernhard Blattmann in this album's program note.
The music is agreeable, but feels slight - hardly worthy of having "appeared
... almost simultaneously in Paris, London and Amsterdam.".
Each quartet is cast in just two movements, usually a sonata
movement accompanied by one in a shorter form - a menuet, a rondo,
even a gavotte in the G minor. The short structures work well
enough, but inevitably leave the impression of a divertimento-like
trifle - background music for aristocrats, perhaps - rather than
substantial music that compels the listener's attention.
The themes are pleasant, in the galant
fashion, and worked
out with some sophistication. While the flute is clearly primus
, it doesn't hog centre-stage. Contrapuntal entries,
usually introducing a movement's second theme, frequently find
one of the upper strings taking the lead; the flute even tacits
briefly in the first-movement development of the C major. But
the first four quartets proffer no adventurous, innovative harmonic
shifts, no attempts at imaginative melodic contours; the music
is appealing, but predictable. Only the C major and G minor quartets
achieve the sort of Mozartean suavity and stature, in both themes
and structure, for which one had hoped all along.
The adept, stylish performances by the members of Il Gardellino
leave little room for complaint, but the engineers have perhaps
not done the players justice. The flutist, Jan de Winne, produces
consistently bright, pointed tone, as recorded. His intonation
is true and he phrases musically, but the mellower colors and
softer dynamics of, say, a William Bennett - in the Mozart quartets
(Philips), with the Grumiaux Trio - seem not a part of his expressive
vocabulary. Of course, Eichner's music may not really call for
much more than this. Similarly, the rustic, almost frayed edge
on the string sound is more likely a product of the recording
than of the playing itself. The virtuosity of violinist Ryo Terakado,
however, is certainly impressive: the brilliance and dash of
his runs in the C major recall Mozart's Paris
Blattmann's note also indicates that these quartets allow for
the addition of a keyboard continuo, which Il Gardellino omits.
It's probably just as well - a tinkling harpsichord might make
the music sound impossibly old-fashioned - but the absence of
the keyboard fills results in the occasional unrefined open fifth.
Good but with reservations as noted - I doubt there'll be any
higher-profile competition, either on disc or via download.
Stephen Francis Vasta