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The String Quartet in Sweden – A Cavalcade of Its History
rec. 1916-1964
CAPRICE CAP21506 [5 CDs: 370:06]

Each of the five CDs consolidated in this chunky box with its 92-page booklet is available singly. Nevertheless, the boxed set is a perfect route to chart the history of the Swedish string quartet on disc between the 1930s and early 60s. The recordings divide between commercial studio inscriptions and preserved broadcast material. Many will be unfamiliar to all except the most dedicated of collectors.

The first disc is devoted to the Barkel Quartet. I’ve written previously about its eponymous leader, Charles Barkel, to whom Caprice has dedicated an outstanding box set of his own (see review). Here he leads his own group in the Stenhammar Quartet in F (on acetates in 1951) and Sven-Erik Bäck’s Quartet No.2, which is taken from one of their few studio recordings, for EMI in November 1950. They play the Stenhammar, which is heard in excellent, forward sound, with great lyricism and warmth, making much of the hi-jinks of the scherzo and the almost-too-much sentiment of the slow movement, a glorious threnody. Bäck’s two-movement work – he was the quartet’s violist and much the youngest member of the group – offers a bipartite expressive construction, a melancholic opening followed by a vigorous Allegro that itself ends in stillness and concentration. The rest of the disc is bitty but historically valuable. An earlier line-up of the group is captured in 1935 playing snippets from Beethoven’s Op.95 Quartet and when I say snippets I mean it: 3:34. In much better sound is the 1939 Haydn Seven Last Words, of which some 13-minutes survives. This was transferred from privately made discs from the Archives of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Some audio from a 1947 newsreel allows us to hear three minutes of a rehearsal of Haydn’s The Rider Quartet (Hob.74:3), in which Barkel instructs a student group led by Lars Frydé. The interloper in this first disc is a performance by the Stockholm Quartet of Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet with Morgan de la Berg. Alas, this is excerpts only – 12-minutes or about 230 bars.

Disc two is devoted to the quartet that bore the name of its Hungarian leader, Carl von Garaguly. It had slightly more international standing than the Barkel, largely by virtue of the leader’s greater prominence and because it recorded a sequence of discs for HMV in May 1944. Where vinyl pressings of the masters exist at the EMI Music Archives these have been used, which ensures excellent sound quality. These important recordings include Stenhammar’s Quartet No.5, played with Old World warmth and generosity and a fast finale. Garaguly was known by his confreres as ‘Rush-In Charlie’ and his impetuous dynamism energises a number of these sides. The opening movement of Atterberg’s Quartet No.2 was cut – 44 bars are missing – in order to fit the music onto the two 78s. Nevertheless, this is fervent music, fervently performed and the skittering first violin part suits the leader perfectly. Lars-Erik Larsson’s Intima Miniatyrer for String Quartet is notable for its two slow movements - beautifully voiced, meditative, and exquisite. The fascinating sonorities evoked in Hilding Rosenberg’s Quartet No.4 include the avian and folkloric and in Garaguly’s Quartet the work finds outstanding interpreters.

The Kyndel Quartet took its name from its first violin, Otto Kyndel (1904-1983). In the first recording of the third CD, its second violin was none other than composer and erstwhile violist in the Barkel group, Sven-Erik Bäck. Both the Berwald E flat major and Dag Wirén’s Quartet No.2 Op.9 come from commercial HMVs made in 1943. This was a truly singing, espressivo ensemble and the Berwald was a perfect choice. The players have confident ideas about vibrating strongly. Wirén’s waggish side can be encountered in the scherzo, which is a droll March, but refinement and strong contrasts of thematic material are also well in evidence. This disc contains pretty much (there are brief exceptions later in the set) the only non-Scandinavian repertoire. There’s a radio broadcast of the Cavatina from Beethoven’s Quartet in B flat major Op.130 given in 1949 and transferred from the acetates. And there is an excellently recorded Berg Lyric Suite from 1956, recorded at the Royal Academy of Music.

Disc four introduces the Ivan Ericson Quartet, who are represented by Berwald’s A minor Quartet, from a Swedish Broadcasting Corporation recording of 1948, and Erland von Koch’s Quartet No.2, a 1951 HMV. It shows how adept the group was across the reportorial spectrum. It also shows the wide expressive range that demarcates each of these ensembles. The Ericson Quartet was a lot less kinetic than the Garaguly, with a homogenised, romantic sense of phrasing in Berwald. This serves the Koch too, in the sheer freshness of the yearning cello line in the first movement (Gösta Lundqvist) and the pizzicato-led lyricism of the Adagio. Stenhammar features in this disc as well, and here it’s the turn of No.4 in A minor, played by yet another group, the Grünfarb Quartet. This comes from a public concert in 1964 in good sound. As recorded, the corporate sound is quite lean but interpretatively this is another highly effective Stenhammar performance – the hymnal beauty of the finale in particular.

The last disc covers a lot of ground, and introduces a number of ensembles which largely flourished outside Stockholm. The Skåne Quartet plays Berwald in a rare and valuable wartime broadcast. The group’s leader was Gunnar Andersson, a more phlegmatic character than many of his compatriot quartet leaders, if this recording is an accurate reflection. John Fernström’s 1946 Quartet No.6 was dedicated to the Hälsingborg Quartet who play it in this 1956 radio recording. The inclusion of somewhat coded gypsy writing in the finale keeps things piquant. The Göteborg Quartet play Hilding Hallnäs’ Quartet No.1, Op.32 in 1954 – this approachable work was actually recorded earlier for HMV by the Ivan Ericson Quartet. The rest of the disc is given over to fascinating snippets recorded as far back as 1916 and document, very briefly, the Galli Quartet – Maro Galli was the short-lived leader – and the Kjellström, which existed from 1911-28.

Each of the booklets provides full discographical and biographical information as well as some excellent photographs. A full afternoon’s reading is assured not least when one considers the large booklet written by Carl-Gunnar Åhlén. This has everything you’d need to contextualise the story of the string quartet in Sweden. There’s a fine outline of the history of the quartet in the country, a list of Swedish quartets founded before 1951 and an exhaustive list of visits to Sweden by foreign string quartets. There are some photographs here too. Anything and pretty much everything you want to know, it’s here.

Jonathan Woolf


Full track-listing
CD1 [76:22]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
String Quartet No.3 in F, Op.18 (1900) [29:45]
rec. May 1951
Sven-Erik BÄCK (1919-1994)
String Quartet No.2 (1947) [13:07]
rec. May 1951
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No.11 in F minor, Op.95: Movements II and III (1810) [3:38]
rec. January 1935
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Seven Last Words – incomplete sections (1785 arr quartet 1787) [13:33]
rec. March 1939
String Quartet in G minor, Hob.74:III The Rider – Movement I (section) (1794-95) [3:27]
rec. November 1947
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 – incomplete (1891) [12:23]
rec. January 1946
Barkel Quartet, except the Brahms Quintet, played by Stockholm Quartet

CD2 [70:42]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
String Quartet No.5 Serenade in C Major Op.29 (1910) [17:44]
Kurt ATTERBERG (1887-1974)
String Quartet No.2 in B minor, Op.11: has 34-bar cut in I (1916) [15:24]
Lars-Erik LARSSON (1906-1987)
Intima Miniatyrer for String Quartet Op.20 (1938) [14:38]
Hilding ROSENBERG (1892-1985)
String Quartet No.4 (1939) [22:35]
rec. May 1944
Garaguly Quartet

CD3 [75:26]
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
String Quartet in E flat major (1849) [18:16]
rec. December 1943
Dag WIRÉN (1905-1986)
String Quartet No.2, Op.9 (1936) [18:00]
rec. December 1943
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
String Quartet No.13 in B flat major, Op.130; V Cavatina only (1825-26) [6:55]
rec. January 1949
Nils CASTEGREN (1908-1999)
String Quartet in B minor; II Scherzo only (1950-51) [4:02]
rec. January 1950
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lyric Suite for string quartet (1926) [27:49]
rec. March 1956
Kyndel Quartet

CD4 [74:55]
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
String Quartet in A minor (1849) [18:25]
rec. June 1948
Erland von KOCH (1910-2009)
String Quartet No.2, Op.28 (1944) [21:59]
rec. March 1951
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871-1927)
String Quartet No.4 in A minor, Op.25 (1906) [34:14]
rec. June 1964
Ivan Ericson Quartet except Stenhammar, played by Grünfarb Quartet

CD5 [72:41]
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
String Quartet in A minor (1849) [17:35]
rec. May 1941
John FERNSTRÖM (1897-1961)
String Quartet No.6, Op.81b (1946) [16:57]
rec. December 1956
Hilding HALLNÄS (1903-1984)
String Quartet No.1, Op.32 (19560) [21:10]
rec. October 1954
Giuseppe BECCE (b.1881)
Légende d’amour, Op.11 [2:53]
rec. August 1928
Valse andalouse [2:45]
rec. August 1929
Olof Jonsson FROM, known as ‘FROM OLLE’
Gammelvals [1:52]
Per ANDERSSON
Polska from Hammarsvall, Delsbo [1:25]
rec. October 1940
Tor AULIN (1866-1914)
Vaggvisa [3:19]
rec. September 1920
FOLK SONG
Jag vet en dejlig rosa [1:24]
rec. November 1916
Louis-Toussaint LILANDRE (1700s)
Minuet (excerpt) [0:58]
rec. December 1934
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in G, Hob. 64:IV; Movement I, introduction only [1:27]
rec. November 1943
Skåne Quartet (Berwald): Hälsingborg Quartet (Fernström): Gothenberg Quartet (Hallnäs): Galli Quartet (Becce): Kjellström Quartet (From Olle, Andersson): Axel Runnquist (violin) and Natanael Broman (piano) (Aulin): Gösta Björk (violin and viola d’amore and unidentified piano) Folk Song: Gösta Björk (viola d’amore) and Ingrid Kjellström (harpsichord) Milandre: Föllinger-Hedberg Quartet (Haydn)

 

 




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