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Franz BERWALD (1796-1868) String Quartet in G minor (1818) [32:14] Johan WIKMANSON (1753-1800) String Quartet in E minor Op. 1, No. 2 [21:00]
Chilingirian String Quartet
rec. Church of St. George the Martyr, Holborn, London, 1975 CRD 3361 [53:29]
This disc best shows what CRD were about, furthering the musical byways when the main companies were still largely trudging merrily along the highways. Franz Berwald was hardly a major musical figure in the 1970s. You could argue that he still isn’t, whilst Johan Wikmanson is still something of an unknown quantity, with only a few pieces being available on disc. Even so, here is a small company presenting two arguably uncommercial works for the listener to enjoy and what a triumph it is too.
I have always been a fan of the string quartet and I can remember buying LPs of the unusual repertoire whenever I could, but not this disc, which is a real shame as it offers the listener two very enjoyable and rewarding pieces. Yes, I have got to know the Berwald through other recordings, including the excellent Lysell Quartet on Musica Sveciae MSCD 520. This is probably the more commercial of the two, with many commentators seeing this somewhat unconventional string quartet as the most important of Berwald’s earlier works, and the one that marks him out for what he would later achieve. It is a simple four movement quartet that is firmly rooted in the classical tradition, yet it also shows a thorough knowledge of the burgeoning Romantic movement and the changes in musical attitude of the day. In this way Berwald’s G minor Quartet could be seen as a transitional work for both the composer and for Swedish music.
A native of Stockholm, Johan Wikmanson’s E minor Quartet is an earlier work than the Berwald and is more traditional in stature but this does not diminish its appeal. As with the Berwald, it is strongly influenced by the mid-European classical movement, and especially the quartets of Haydn and his teacher Johan Martin Kraus. The second movement Un poco adagio, with its variations is particularly charming. It is this movement that has led his style to be compared with that of Haydn. The whole work has its appeal and it is a valuable addition to the recorded legacy of the quartet.
The Chilingirian String Quartet are at home in this music. For me they have been a mainstay of the classical and early romantic repertoire and this recording is no different. They are slightly slower in the Berwald than the Lysell Quartet, but their recording has a warmth and sense of time which is backed up by the acoustic. This adds up to a most enjoyable listening experience.