Georges ONSLOW (1784-1853)
String Quintet Op.78 (1848) [25:00]
String Quartet Op.8 No.1 (c.1812) [20:58]
Gérard Jarry and Yvon Caracilly (violins); Serge Collot and Bruno Pasquier (violas): Michel Tournus (cello)
rec. 1972
There are a number of recordings now of Onslow’s extensive chamber music - quartets and the various quintets prominent amongst them - but things were rather different in 1972 when these recordings were made of the music of the ‘French Beethoven’. This transfer faithfully replicates the original source material, with the collateral result that it only lasts 46 minutes, should that be a concern.
The two works here come from either end of Onslow’s compositional life. The Quintet is a late work, written in the Revolutionary year of 1848, five years before the Anglo-Frenchman’s death at the age of sixty-nine. Onslow varied the forces for which he wrote when composing for quintets, sometimes including a bass, but here he writes for a standard string quartet plus second viola. It’s played in this recording by the illustrious Bruno Pasquier who joins colleagues led by that splendid fiddler Gérard Jarry. Some may remember him for his many collaborations with Rampal, Paillard, Pludermacher and other illustrious names from French music. As well as leading these two Onslow performances he also recorded the same composer’s Trio in F, Op.83 with Beläk-Zbar and Tournus.
The Quintet opens with pious warmth and considerable lyricism which, despite Onslow’s reputation for occasional polyphonic density, emerges as a primary feature of the composition. The ‘patetico’ elements in the first movement are richly conveyed by the ensemble, a richly voiced group it’s a pleasure to encounter again, and they dig into the Scherzo with vitality and élan. The Romanza is actually, as these things go, quite sinewy. It’s tautly argued too, especially when the voices double, and the bass line is pointed with such muscular strength. The finale unleashes some dynamism as well as little fugitively humorous moments as well. This is a work that rewards close listening and study. It’s played, as suggested, quite marvellously.
The String Quartet dates from around 1812. Don’t be alarmed by the supposedly Beethovenian length of the first movement, as listed on the jewel case. Shave ten minutes off its alleged 16 minute length and you’ll have it right. This is another expert and persuasive work, though it rather lacks those points of timbral colour that give the Quintet such a personalised feel. Still, Onslow shows in the Adagio that he had always been expert at that sense of warm piety which is here a servant of tautly compressed and rich polyphony. There’s also plenty of bite and brio in the finale, though I won’t be arguing that the quartet is the superior work.
Once more the performance is ideal in its stylistic acumen. This is a splendid restoration and well worth your time.
Jonathan Woolf 

A splendid restoration and well worth your time.