Georges ONSLOW (1784 – 1853)
String Quartet No.28 in E?, op.54 (1835) [25:06]
String Quartet No.29 in D minor, op.55 (1835) [27:09]
String Quartet No.30 in C minor, op.56 (1835) [25:22]
Diotima Quartet (Naaman Sluchin and Yun Peng Zhao (violins); Frank Chevalier (viola); Pierre Morlet (cello))
rec. July 2009, MC2, Grenoble, France. DDD
NAÏVE V 5200 [77:41]
Georges ONSLOW (1784 – 1853)
Piano Quintet, op.70 (1846) [30:36]
String Quintet, The Bullet, op.38 (1829) [27:29]
Ensemble Monsolo (Samika Honda and Guillaume Molko (violins); Sylvain Durantel (viola); Nicolas Defranoux (cello); Rémy Yulzari (double-bass)) with François–Joël Thiollier (piano)
rec. September 2008, Studio 4’33”, Ivry sur Seine. DDD
POLYMNIE POL 550 162 [58:00]
Written in the wake of his first hearing of Beethoven’s late Quartets, in Paris, the three String Quartets, opp. 54, 55 and 56 are supposed to represent Onslow’s response to the German’s works. Such was obviously Onslow’s surprise at Beethoven’s works that the Quartet, op.54 is hilarious! It’s full of the most wonderful musical jokes and it shows, as do the other two works under discussion here, a very free hand in the use of chromaticism. The first movement of opus 55 is all fire and passion, tempered by quieter moments of repose, and the following scherzo is skittish, with a very exciting use of silence, to great dramatic effect, with a trio, which appears twice, of total humour,. This is marvellous stuff indeed and totally compelling. A richly scored slow movement, full of passion and longing, gives way to a finale of great spirit, urgency and energy, much in the manner of the first movement, and abrupt silences slice across the music creating great excitement. This is a wonderful quartet and deserves to be heard often. Although the opus 56 Quartet has some of the fire of the other two works on this disk, there is more elegance to the music. This is a splendid achievement of the melding of violent music with the tenderest of ideas, until the finale which is a real barnstorming effort.
The performances of the Diotima Quartet are as perfect as one could wish – their advocacy, and obvious delight in this music, is evident in every bar, and they observe every repeat. Although Onslow was called the French Beethoven, there’s much more to him that being a mere torch-carrier and it’s good to have such a marvellous exposition of his music as this. The sound is crisp and clear and the presentation in a gatefold sleeve, with a booklet which slips nicely into the inside of the front portion, is very attractive. This is well worth having for anyone interested in chamber music, in what happened after Beethoven, or simply for anyone who enjoys good music.
Whilst hunting, in 1829, Onslow was badly injured, and could have died from his wounds, but suffered only - as if “only” is a good thing for a composer in this case - deafness in his left ear. This incident inspired the second, third and fourth movements of his String Quintet, op.38, to which he gave the nickname The Bullet. This is a dramatic work, but then much of Onslow’s chamber music is dramatic for he managed to marry the drama of the opera – he did live in an “Opera Mad France” – and chamber music. This Quintet is an expansive work with a very long first movement. The construction, as in all Onslow’s music, is tight and to the point – he never wastes a note, and it is well laid out for the instruments. The Piano Quintet is a later work and more romantic in feel and relaxed.
The performances by the Ensemble Monsolo and François–Joël Thiollier are very fine, but lack the passion and fire of the Diotima Quartet. The sound isn’t as good as on the Naïve disk – being slightly boxy and restricted, but it is still clear, without a rich bloom. Also, the Naïve disk achieves a miraculous pianissimo which is lacking on the Polymnie recording. However, despite these small points this is a disk well worth having.
Three cheers for both disks for they serve to further illuminate our understanding of a too long forgotten composer. I’ve been a fan of Onslow for many years and I hope that he is finally finding a place in the affections of many others. He deserves to.

Bob Briggs
Three cheers for both disks … see Full Review