Arnold KRUG (1849-1904)
String Sextet, Op. 68 (ca 1896) [28:03]
Piano Quartet, Op. 16 (1878) [38:38]
rec. 2014 Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln, Germany
CPO 555 030-2 [66:57]
Almost daily, it seems, the music of another long-lost composer gets rediscovered, and a new CD is produced to fight their corner. As with this new release on the German CPO label, it comes as no surprise that the sleeve-note should suggest that Hamburg-born Arnold Krug deserves to be far-better-known today, if the quality and invention of the two examples of his chamber works recorded here are anything to go by. By now this has become a familiar opening gambit, but while it introduces today’s listeners to a vast list of new repertoire from every century, it has to be said that perhaps not every new-found composer really deserves the effort.
The sleeve note describes Krug as a Brahms contemporary, even though Krug was born 16 years later. True – like Mendelssohn earlier – they were both born in Hamburg, and Krug ultimately made the north German city the centre of his artistic activities, after his initial studies at Leipzig Conservatory, and some teaching in Berlin. But apart from some moments in the Piano Quartet, there isn’t really a lot of Krug’s music here that openly recalls that of his older fellow-citizen. Indeed, the arresting opening of the first movement of the String Sextet speaks with an individual voice that really engages the listener straight away on its own merit, rather than through its similarity to Brahms, or any other composer roughly contemporary, the second subject, for example, seemingly has more Elgarian overtones.
The work’s full title, in fact, is ‘Sextet in D major for Two Violins, Viola, Violotta, Cello, and Cellone’, and is described as a ‘Prize Sextet’ on the title page of its first edition. Krug submitted the work to the Stelzner Competition at Dresden Conservatory. Instrument-builder Alfred Stelzner had only recently added two new instruments to the standard string family: the Violotta, which, in range and timbre, was intended to fill the gap between the viola and cello, and the Cellone, the lowest note of which was only a minor 3rd higher than the double bass, an instrument that has always been felt somewhat cumbersome in chamber music, Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet really being its finest hour. Interestingly there is a small error in the sleeve-note, as the Violotta is actually referred to as a ‘Violetta’ in the English translation, while correctly shown as ‘Violotta’ in the German original – the Violetta was actually a 16th-century instrument, similar to a violin, but with only three strings. This poses an interesting question as to what to play the Cellone part on today. Some performances favour a second cello, the classic format as used by Brahms in his Sextets, but on the present CD, the excellent Linos Ensemble use a double bass, which really expands the harmonic range and texture overall. Although the Sextet is in the key of D major, Krug chooses a somewhat less-common relationship for the ensuing slow movement (Adagio tranquillo), which opens in F major. This is really lovely writing, sentimental, but never overly so, and poignant, until the character changes when rhythmic intensity builds to introduce the second subject, again cast in A flat, another less-common contrasting key. This runs its course, and works up to a climax, which seems then to fall away, as it leads gently back once again to the first theme. It is here, in particular, that that added resonance at the bottom-end from the double bass really makes its presence felt, before this highly-attractive movement reaches its quiet ending. Even as a stand-alone movement, this quite beautiful Adagio could hold its own alongside ones like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, or Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile, both similarly extracted from larger chamber works. There are just three movements, and the Finale returns to the home key, with a jaunty, bustling rondo. The episodes are clearly marked, and with sufficient variety to keep the listener engaged throughout. Again, strangely it’s the music of Elgar rather than of Krug’s compatriot Brahms that seems to be suggested at times here – Krug’s Sextet appeared around 1896, bizarrely the same time as Elgar’s ‘From the Bavarian Highlands’, Op 27.
The Piano Quartet is an earlier work, composed when Krug was 29, and certainly in the pages of the opening Allegro moderato, it’s Brahmsian, rather than Elgarian fingerprints than can be discerned to some considerable degree. Krug had just completed his final studies in Rome, and it’s these experiences and memories that very much are reflected in the work’s Finale, with its Roman-Carnival feel in the tonic-major key. On the other hand, the devilish and ghostly third movement, marked ‘Allegro molto feroce e vivace’ is headed Nächtlicher Ritt, or ‘Night Ride’.
Once again, it’s the slow movement that is at the heart of the work, and the present Adagio opens with an expansive melody in octaves from the strings, somewhat reminiscent of the opening of the slow movement of Brahms’s Double Concerto, Op 102. The piano enters very shortly after, adding further impetus to the melody, which develops almost contrapuntally, and with some lovely suspensions created along the way. An even-more-restful section ensues, followed by an impressive build up that leads once more to a reprise of the opening song-like melody, which then ebbs and flows towards its eventually untroubled close.
The terse, and exciting Scherzo that follows, picks up the momentum again from the opening movement, where once more the shadow of Brahms is never that far away. The Trio, in the major key, affords some slight respite, before the reprise of the Scherzo. This just leaves Krug’s optimistically bright ‘Carnival finale’ (Allegro carnevalesco e molto animato) to round off the whole work to sheer perfection. Krug certainly knows just how to build to an effective climax, through a well-judged use of pedal points, and the ability to juxtapose contrasting sections along the way. Krug hypes up proceedings as the final bars are reached, where the last 30 seconds or so culminate in a joyful, almost tintinnabular finish.
CPO clearly felt strongly enough about the almost total neglect of Arnold Krug’s music today that they decided to record two of his chamber works, in the hope that this might help redress the balance. In the event this has proved a sound decision in every sense of the word, for we now have two well-crafted, eminently tuneful pieces, exceedingly well-played and recorded – to say nothing of two poignant slow movements to die for.
Apart from its use as a German surname, Krug has a list of meanings ranging from ‘jug’ to ‘pub’. Hopefully this outstanding new release will ensure that the name of Arnold Krug is no longer just another of those many forgotten jugs hidden away on the shelf, simply awaiting rediscovery.
Philip R Buttall