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Wolfgang RIHM (b. 1952)
Geste zu vedova [10:03]
Streichquartett in g [9:14]
Streichquartett (1968) [15:37]
Epilog [11:57]
Minguet Quartett
Jens Peter Maintz (cello)
rec. 2015/16, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln
WERGO WER73462 [47:04]

It has often been said that the composition of string quartets is an old man’s game, but here we seem to have an exception to the rule. Here the German composer Wolfgang Rihm is represented by three quartets, the first two composed whilst he was still in his teens.

The oldest composition on the disc is the Streichquartett in g and dates from 1966 when Rihm was still only 14; it is a remarkably compact and mature work, one that is clearly influenced by Beethoven, but equally clearly points the way to what was to come. This was followed two years later by his Streichquartett (1968), a much more rounded and stronger work, one in which the composer moves away from Beethoven and closer to the likes of Bartók, Hindemith, Shostakovich and Schoenberg, especially in the sense of momentum in the works first movement. This is a much more modern sounding work than his earlier Quartet in g, and there is a greater depth and form to the music as well as a greater sense of individuality, here the composer himself really starts to be heard. Both theses works are attractive and it is difficult to conceive of them being composed by an adolescent; these are works of genuine value.

The two earlier works are bookended by much later works with the opening work, Gaste zu vedova, actually being the most recent. Composed in 2015, it is also written for string quartet and was written to a commission on behalf of the present performers, the Minguet Quartett. As with his earliest quartet on the disc it is cast in a single movement, though containing differing rhythmical sections. These sections are vibrant, with the various rhythms being the key to the whole work; this is a mature masterpiece, its ten minutes being over all too soon for me.

For the final work on the disc the Minguet Quartett are joined by the cellist Jens Peter Maintz for the Epilog of 2012/13. A work influenced by the great C Major String Quintet by Schubert, this is a work based on associations rather than any thematic material, although Schubert can clearly be felt, especially in the second theme. It is, like Gaste zu vedova, a strongly rhythmic work which uses harmonic material to great effect. After listening to the disc I played the Schubert followed instantly by the Epilog and it sits well in this context.

Although at 47 minutes this disc is a little short, it is well worth investing in, especially when the production values, which are first rate, are taken into account; add to this the wonderful performances of the Minguet Quartett, who seem to have a deep understanding of this music, and Jens Peter Maintz, and you have a real winner. A must for all fans of the music of Wolfgang Rihm, but also of string quartets and especially those of the modern era.

Stuart Sillitoe



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