Johannes Verhulst held a conspicuous place in Dutch musical life in the nineteenth-century. His musical appointments in Rotterdam and Amsterdam attest to this status. His advancement of the Leipzig School marked him out as a thoroughgoing proponent of the latest trends – or would have done had his enthusiasm for Schumann and Mendelssohn not been accompanied by a later distinct lack of enthusiasm for the New School of Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz.
Verhulst is represented on this disc by his Op.6 String Quartets, dating from 1839. Both works are suffused with a leisurely and warmly textured Romanticism that reinforces his Mendelssohnian allegiances. The D minor’s easy lyricism is founded on secure technical qualities, and its slow movement is sweetly effusive, indeed – as the notes suggest – almost waltz-like. Certainly it doesn’t plumb any significant expressive depth, even as an Adagio – I’d have been tempted to call it an Andantino – but it is of a kind with the work as a whole. The vigorous Scherzo is followed by a sparkling finale, elegantly powered by the Utrecht Quartet, which I have praised before in its exploration of Glazunov’s Quartets.
The longest single movement in these two quartets is the opening of the A flat major, where Verhulst introduces some piquant harmonies. It was Schumann no less, who spoke of this quartet’s ‘zest for living’ and he cited the slow movement as a particular example. It’s true that this songful, verdant Adagio sostenuto seems to have an inner, rather personal-sounding slant which gives a rich sense of personalisation to the music. After which we have the tautly engaging scherzo, somewhat conventional, and a typically bright, breezy and engaging finale, jauntily sprung with slight folkloric hues.
The Utrecht is very successful at following the quartets’ lyrical digressions. Their lissom and texturally aerated sound is soft-grained and attuned to the aesthetic, and is complemented by an airy acoustic. If listened to sympathetically it’s clear that Verhulst’s quartets are certainly more than mere appendices to the romantic chamber music of the time.