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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27 (1877/78) 
String Quartet No. 2 in F major, EG 117 (c. 1891) [18:35]
Fugue in F minor, EG 114 (1861) [3:15]
Meccore String Quartet
rec. 2016, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany MDG 903 1998-6 SACD [57:09]
On MDG, the Meccore String Quartet has recorded Edvard Grieg’s three works for string quartet, of which only String Quartet No. 1 in G minor is in complete form. Grieg’s music is often seen as defined by a small body of works: Piano Concerto, Peer Gynt suites, Holberg Suite, Lyric Pieces for solo piano including the notable Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Nevertheless, there are a number of gems to discover, including the Cello Sonata, the three Violin Sonatas and the G minor String Quartet performed here.
Grieg was only 18 years old when in 1861 he composed his Fugue in F minor marked Allegro con fuoco. Possibly the score was a student exercise for his counterpoint class during his time at the Leipzig Conservatory (1858-1862). Lasting just over three minutes, this lively, upbeat piece displays an infectious quality in the hands of the Meccore. Some four years later a modest fugal passage was woven into the Finale of Grieg’s delightful First Violin Sonata.
Written in 1877/1878, the extrovert String Quartet No. 1 in G minor follows an earlier, now lost, quartet from his student years. None other than Liszt acclaimed this mature quartet, which, as Grieg biographer Erling Dahl Jr. has said, serves as “a bridge between the late Beethoven quartets and Debussy’s quartet”. The score is contemporaneous to significant and influential quartets by Borodin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. Evident is how Grieg’s writing is typically rhythmic, intense and buoyant, frequently shot through with sections of rapt tenderness. It soon becomes clear that the Meccore are aware of the heartfelt, affecting content of the writing. It reflects Grieg’s capricious romantic experiences, but is careful not to overemphasise the emotion. Marked Lento – Presto al Saltarello, the inspiring Finale is a compelling highlight a wonderful movement that could easily serve as a stand-alone piece.
Around 1891 Grieg commenced work on String Quartet No. 2 in F major but he never found the motivation to complete the score. He left just two movements and sketches for the third and fourth movements. After Grieg’s death, his Dutch friend the composer Julius Röntgen edited the first two movements for the Leipzig publisher Peters. Röntgen later made a completion by elaborating the sketches of the two unfinished movements. They have been recorded (see a review) but are not performed on this release. In the manner of a Richard Strauss tone poem, the opening movement marked Sostenuto – Allegro vivace e grazioso could easily suggest watching Grieg’s breathtaking Nordic landscapes through, say, a train carriage window. Typically, the second movement Allegro scherzando is highly rhythmic. The Meccore expertly underline the starkly contrasting tempi and dynamics of the scoring.
Founded in 2007, the Warsaw-based Meccore String Quartet has been the recipient of several prestigious chamber music awards. In 2016, they released an album of Szymanowski and Debussy quartets on Warner. Striking throughout is how the Meccore marry security of ensemble and attractive intonation with colourful expression. They display a real affinity for Grieg’s music. Nothing feels rushed or forced, everything falls ideally into place.
This hybrid SACD has been recorded in studio conditions at Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster. (I played it on a standard player.) The recording engineers did a faultless job. They have excelled, providing satisfying clarity and balance. Axel Streurich’s readable and informative booklet notes are exemplary.
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