Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
String Quartet No.6 Op.106 (1921) [39:49]
Five Novelettes Op.15 (1885-86) [29:57]
Utrecht String Quartet
rec. October 2009 and May 2010, unidentified locations

The Utrecht Quartet is making something of a speciality of the Russian repertoire and this latest volume in its Glazunov series joins Grechaninov (two volumes so far) and Tchaikovsky in its highly absorbing trawl. Not that it has ignored territory very much closer to home; try its discs of Robert de Roos and Lex van Delden, for instance.

The Utrecht and its label MDG are taking a crabwise approach to Glazunov. I reviewed the very first volume favourably, but not for them a chronological survey; instead the opening salvo brought the third and fifth quartets, volume 2 brought the second and fourth; then the third disc veered off entirely to the Op.35 Suite and the Op.39 Quintet. With this volume however we are back on track with the big Sixth and the evergreen Novelettes.

The Sixth Quartet was written in 1921. Itís a big forty minute work, quasi-symphonic in places and dense in texture, especially in the first movement when you could be forgiven for thinking it was a quintet. This chamber orchestral quality is well conveyed by the Utrecht who seemingly revels in its strong and vital structure. By contrast the Intermezzo is light-hearted, asymmetrical and engaging whilst the slow movement is an Andante piangevole and nicely lyrical. The finale is a theme and variations. Its sound world varies from being a touch ecclesiastical in places to revealing the influence of DvorŠk and Tchaikovsky. The folkloric and pious panels that frank the finale are clever, though very stop-start. This is a finely played work, though I canít claim that itís a masterpiece of the chamber repertoire.

The Novelettes reveal what the Quartet lacks; really distinctive tunes and a concise approach to structure and to harmony. Quite a few groups have essayed the complete set of five, but Iíd drawn attention to the Fine Arts on Naxos [8.570256] who offer a diametrically opposed kind of performance. Where the Utrecht is light of bow pressure, the Fine Arts dig in powerfully. The way best to appreciate these differing aesthetic approaches is to contrast the simplicity of phrasing and restrained vibrato of the Utrecht in the Interludium with the Fine Artsís muscular intensity. Or indeed the quite fleet, light-on-their-feet Utrechtís AllíUngherese finale with the Fine Artís powerful but slower approach.

Once again Iím taken by the Utrecht approach. I think they have reached a fine entente with Glazunov throughout the four volumes, and with a good recording Iíd be happy to recommend them.

Jonathan Woolf

Once again Iím taken by the Utrecht approach.