Birth of the String Quartet - Vol. 2
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Sonata V (c. 1740)
Louis Gabriel GUILLEMAIN (1705-1770) String Quartet, Op. 12/2 (1743)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) String Quartet, KV 170 (1773)
Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809) String Quartet, Op. 76/1 (1797)
Casal Quartet (Daria Zappa (violin); Rachel Späth (violin); Markus Fleck (viola); Andreas Fleck (cello))
rec. October 2009, Parish Church, Bachs, nr. Zurich, Switzerland.
SOLO MUSICA SM 143 [61:42]

The first volume in the Casal Quartet’s Birth of the String Quartet series introduces the listener to scores by Alessandro Scarlatti, Sammartini, Mozart, Boccherini and Haydn. It was reviewed here in February 2010. That disc won an Echo Klassik award in the category for ‘best recording in 17/18th Century chamber music category’. This second volume in the series tracks the form of the string quartet in much the same era: around the time of the evolution from the baroque into the classical. This second volume has already won the eminent Diapason Award Découverte.

The first two scores take the form of the quartet sonata known as a ‘quadro’ and usually containing a basso continuo. The earliest work is the circa 1740 example from Telemann the mega-prolific German who spend most of his life in Hamburg. I am unable to identify exactly which work is being played from the sparse information given in the notes. We are told that the four movement piece was originally scored for transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. The short and simple opening movement Adagio precedes a cheerful Allegro. A yearning second Adagio is followed by a final Allegro with a tempo that feels more like a Presto.

Parisian, Guillemain studied in Italy before returning to work in France principally in Paris for the Royal Court. His three movement score is the string quartet version of his Op. 12/2 from the 1743 set of Six sonates en quatuors ou conversations galantes, for flute, violin, bass viol, and basso continuo. Bright and upbeat, the opening Allegro moderato has a slight undercurrent of pathos. At almost ten minutes in length the extended Aria grazioso, Altro is pensive and seems rather too lengthy for its material. The concluding Allegro is brisk and breezy. Designed in the form of the string quartet that we are familiar with today Mozart’s String Quartet No. 10, K. 170 is one of his so-called ‘Viennese quartets’ from 1773. This four movement work dates from the period when the seventeen year old composer was strongly influenced by Haydn. The opening Andante sports a pleasing theme. A set of four variations is followed by a stately Menuetto. With its lovely melodies the Un poco Adagio is played with rapt tenderness and the concluding movement a Rondo, Allegro is lively and playful.

The final score of the disc is Haydn’s four movement Op. 76/1 – of six. Commissioned by Count Erdödy and completed in 1797 they were Haydn’s last completed set. In the opening Allegro con spirito I thought that the tempo could have been quicker and the playing more spirited. With some glorious and memorable melodies the Adagio sostenuto has a meditative feel - almost spiritual. The elegant Menuet, Presto needed to be taken quicker though the brisk Finale is full of high spirited writing.

Founded in 1996 the Casal Quartet adopt historical performance practise. They play period instruments with gut strings and bows to match. Increasingly a number of quartets on today’s scene are attracted to this specialist area. Undoubtedly the best known in the field is the renowned Quatuor Mosaïques with other fine exponents including Quatuor Chiaroscuro led by Alina Ibragimova.

The booklet notes explain how the Casal Quartet use a valuable set of mid-seventeenth century instruments by maker Jacobus Stainer from Absam near Innsbruck in the Austrian Tyrol. We are informed that the set is on loan from the Musikkollegium Winterthur (Winterthur Music College), near Zurich. The quartet of instruments is labelled “Jacobus Stainer in Absam near Oenipontum” and comprise two violins from 1659, a viola from 1660 and a cello from 1673. All the instruments have been restored by violin maker Aline M. Oberle. Decent photographs of the instruments are prominently shown in the booklet. Andreas Fleck points out to me that some of the pictures were taken before the instruments were brought back into their original condition. Link to more information about the Stainer Quartet of instruments.

The playing of the Casal is selflessly assured and alert. However everything feels a touch too serious which doesn’t help the overall effect. The sound they produce is immediate with a nicely blended tone. I would have liked more information about each of the four scores. They are closely recorded with the cello placed a touch forward. The recorded sound has an impressive clarity with slight but pleasing reverberation. With a few minor reservations I enjoyed this Solo Musica release greatly and keenly look forward to the third volume in the series.

Michael Cookson

I enjoyed greatly and keenly look forward to the third volume.