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Georges ONSLOW (1784 - 1853)
String Quintets - Volume 1
String Quintet No.20 in D minor Op.45 (1831) [31.22]
String Quintet No.26 in C minor Op.67 (1845) [33.38]
Elan Quintet
Benjamin Scherer Quesada (violin), Lelia Iancovici (violin), Julia Chu-Ying Hu (viola), Dmitri Tsirin (cello), Matthew Baker (double bass)
rec. Auditorio de Rafelbunyol, Rafelbunyol, Valencia, December 2015
NAXOS 8.573600 [65.06]

Georges Onslow is a composer whose stock has slowly risen in the last few years, especially for his chamber works. This new CD, marking yet another new – and very welcome – series from Naxos, amply demonstrates why this should be so.

Onslow, despite his English surname, was a French-born-and-based composer, though he spent some time in London. He was a gentleman composer, wealthy enough to compose for his own interest. Of most abiding interest are the string quartets (36 of these) and the 34 string quintets. If the remainder match the quality of the two on this CD, this will be a series to follow avidly, especially in performances as good as these.

In some of the earlier quintets, Onslow chose to use two violas or two cellos. He was not immediately convinced by the use of the double bass. On a visit to London, Onslow discovered a missing cellist, and was persuaded to let the part be filled by Domenico Dragonetti, a virtuoso bassist. Despite his reluctance, Onslow admired the depth provided and began to write supplementary parts (No.20 was originally written for two cellos but here uses the double bass parts) or to compose for the double bass (as in No.26 here). The effect is to give depth and weight to the music, something appropriate to the seriousness with which Onslow takes his work. In both quintets, there is a seriousness to the music as well as moments of quiet reflectiveness, as in the lovely Andante cantabile of No. 20 – for me, this movement alone would make this CD a must-buy. One can understand the admiration of Berlioz and Schumann, and even why the later thought Onslow a major composer of chamber music. Just occasionally, transitions are a little less smooth than with the greatest masters, but that does not detract from either the beauty of the interest of these pieces.

The Valencia-based, but international, Elan Quintet (an ensemble new to me), play with evident devotion, interest and excellence in a wonderfully clear performance. I shall return to this issue often and enthusiastically.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: David Barker


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