Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
String Quintet in F major, WAB 1143 (1879) [44:55]
Intermezzo in D minor for string quintet (1879) [9:56]
Quartet in C minor , WAB 111 (1862-3) [22:06]
Fitzwilliam String Quartet (Lucy Russell, Jonathan Sparey, Colin Scobie (violins); Alan George (viola); Heather Tuach (cello))
James Boyd (viola)
rec. 2010/11, St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, UK. DDD
LINN CKD402 [76:33]
While the Quintet was a mature work written by a composer who already had five symphonies to his credit, Bruckner’s Quartet was essentially a student piece written for the Linz cellist and conductor Otto Kitzler, under whom Bruckner was studying. However, there is nothing amateur or tentative about that composition; it is dramatic, lyrical and passionate by turns and makes a lovely companion piece to the sublime Quintet and its discarded Intermezzo.
My point of comparison for the Quintet and Intermezzo is with the 1993 recording by the Raphael Ensemble on Hyperion/Helios. The links between that recording and this from Linn are not only that they are equally desirable but that the distinguished violist James Boyd took part in both. I would not part with either but in any case both the artistic approach and couplings are different: the Raphael give us a sterling performance of the String Sextet from the Prelude to Strauss’s “Capriccio” but also a different interpretative and presentational stance.
Linn Records give us even bigger, warmer, fuller sound and even though the Fitzwilliam Quartet use gut strings and play with considerably less vibrato, their tuning is impeccable. With the exception of the Adagio, they also take considerably more time over their phrasing, and despite maintaining a stricter rhythm are in fact even more ripely Romantic, happily employing portamento and sometimes taking on what sounds almost like a keening tone. The Raphael, by contrast, are freer, generally faster and more impulsive, relying on a more overtly traditional, throbbing sonority. Both ensembles succeed in marrying the typically disparate moods of the cheerful, rustic dance music, frequently in three-quarter time and reminiscent of Dvořak, with the stately, sonorous block harmonies of the slow movements, which emerge with a Brahmsian intensity. It is also noticeable how often the Fitzwilliam observe Bruckner’s request for ppp in dynamics; their hushed close to the Adagio of the Quintet is exquisite.
All Brucknerians will welcome this issue from Linn, which not only unites all of Bruckner’s significant chamber music in one superb recording but also represents the culmination of a project proceeding from the collaboration between Linn and the Fitzwilliam Quartet, with financial support from the Bruckner Journal (UK) and the Bruckner Society of America.