Ernst EICHNER (1740-1777)
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/1 in D (1772) [10:36]
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/2 in G (1772) [10:29]
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/3 in D minor (1772) [9:49]
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/4 in D (1772) [8:04]
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/5 in C (1772) [9:04]
Flute Quartet, Op. 4/6 in G minor (1772) [9:02]
Jan De Winne (flute)
Il Gardellino
rec. October 2006
ACCENT ACC 24183 [57:02]

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 inter pares, 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 Symphony in spirit.

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