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Joseph MAYSEDER (1789-1863)
String Quartet No. 6 in G major, op. 23 (1818) [29:09]
String Quartet No. 5 in D major, op. 9 (1811) [32:36]
Mayseder Quartett
rec. 2015/16, Studio Wavegarden, Mitterretzbach, Austria
GRAMOLA 99148 [61:45]

This has sat on my playlist for quite a while, principally because I wasn’t quite sure what I felt about it. It has taken more than a few listens but I now feel in a position to recommend it to you, but first some biographical information about this Viennese composer is appropriate.

He was a talented violinist from an early age, making his public debut at the age of ten, and receiving lessons from the eminent musician Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose quartet he later played in as second violinist. There is a document that has come down to us where luminaries such as Salieri, Haydn, Albrechtsberger and Kozeluch declared the 16 year old Mayseder to “be considered among the virtuosos”. He played in the premieres of Beethoven’s seventh and ninth symphonies, and was personally asked by Beethoven to perform in a concert of his quartets. These are just some of the performing highlights in a stellar career. His own compositions unsurprisingly are dominated by works for his own instrument, and were played by the great soloists of the nineteenth century. His output also includes twenty or so chamber works, including eight string quartets. This is the second volume of Mayseder’s chamber music to be released by Gramola; the first, not reviewed on this site, featured three works for piano quartet. I’m very much hoping that his four piano trios feature in a later release.

Unsurprisingly, these two works show the general influence of Haydn, but also Schubert in their rhythms, though I won’t claim that Mayseder has the latter’s sublime gift for melody. The sixth quartet which is placed first on the disc opens with a rather banal, salon-like theme which rather put me off, and while this morphed into something more substantial and interesting fairly quickly, the work never really escapes the sense of being best suited as background entertainment in a Vienna coffeehouse.

The fifth quartet is a different beast entirely. While still in a major key, it is darker, more serious and exceptionally fine. If you are an aficionado of string quartets of this era, you really should give this a listen – I’m sure you will be impressed by it. I don’t think it is overstating the work’s quality in saying that had this turned up as a lost Schubert middle-period quartet, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. Mayseder gives the first violin plenty of good moments, but doesn’t cause an imbalance among the instruments in doing so.

I’m very impressed by the performances here; two of the players also appeared on the first volume which bodes well for it. Intonation and timbre are excellent and the tempos seem right. The recording also helps by providing plenty of detail but no extraneous noises, and the notes are informative.

The fifth quartet makes this worth the purchase price.

David Barker