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Wenzel Heinrich VEIT (1806-1864)
Complete String Quartets - Volume One
String Quartet No.1 in D minor, Op.3 (1834) [31:30]
String Quartet No.2 in E major, Op.5 (1835) [30:41]
Kertész Quartet (Katalin Kertész and Jean Paterson (violins); Nichola Blakey (viola), Cressida Nash (cello))
rec. May 2016, St Peter’s, Evercreech, Somerset

The Bohemian-born composer Wenzel Heinrich Veit (or Václav Jindřich Veit) is one of the forgotten men of the first half of the nineteenth-century. At a time when Prague venerated older Viennese classicists, Veit was looking at contemporary models such as Schumann as they closely spoke to his incipient compositional romanticism. The fact that Veit played the violin in an amateur string quartet gave him an insight into the repertoire and it wasn’t long before the orchestra in Aachen sent for him to be their musical director. Despite personal plaudits he stayed only a few months returning to his native land where illness soon overtook him. He moved to his home town, Litoměřice, near Prague where he died in 1864.

This is the first of two volumes charting Veit’s four string quartets. The Op.3 Quartet of 1834 has its share of Beethovenian elements though there’s also a rather suave Gallic concertante role for the first violin, something that might perhaps also alert one to the pervasive influence of Spohr. There are some very attractive features in this work – galloping rhythmic figures and almost sepulchral viola and cello unisons – made more sepulchral through the use of original instruments and minimal vibrato. There are light dancing figures in the Minuet and the slow movement presents a series of attractive and contrastive variations on the Russian anthem, God Save the Tsar. The finale is stormy with a renewed role for the first violin and plenty of extrovert themes. As in the Minuet the finale ends almost brusquely.

The E major quartet was completed the following year. Its opening is chromatic and its slow movement is easeful and lyrical. Robert Schumann was perceptive when he suggested that this was a young man’s music, one who though educated was ‘as yet unaffected by deep and painful experiences’. There is in this quartet something tutored and genial, that’s summed up in its enjoyable and melodically persuasive finale, one that detours to take in a fugato. Yet it’s the earlier work that remains the more personable and idiosyncratic.

The Kertész Quartet takes its name from its first violinist. All four are members of leading period instrument ensembles. They play attractively though sometimes the church acoustic encourages a spread to the sound, one that, on occasion, exacerbates a booming quality to the lower strings. The notes are by two great specialists in Czech music, Markéta Kabelková and Aleš Březina.

These attractive works are heard in premiere recordings. I’m not expecting to find lost masterpieces in this series but the disc is valuable for shining light on the role of the string quartet in Bohemia in the years before Smetana and on the influence of Austrian and German contemporaries on native Czech composers.

Jonathan Woolf



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