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Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
String Quartet no.1, Op.16 (1843) [25:39]
String Quartet no.2, Op.30 (1851) [21:04]
String Quartet no.3, Op.132 (1874) [27:09]
String Quartet no.4, Op.211 (1890) [20:34]
String Quartet no.5, Op.287 (1909) [28:55]
rec. 2017-18, Große Lindensaal, Markkleeberg, Germany
CPO 555184-2 [2 CDs: 123:33]

The German composer Carl Reinecke lived a long life, working as a pianist, conductor and pedagogue. He served as Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus for thirty five years, and was the renowned teacher of such notables as Max Bruch, Edvard Grieg, Arthur Sullivan, Charles Villiers Stanford, Leos Janácek, Frederick Delius, Max Bruch, Edvard Grieg, and Johan Svendsen, to name just a few. At the Leipzig Conservatoire he was a contemporary of Mendelssohn and Schumann, outliving both. He started composing young, and throughout his life amassed some 288 numbered compositions, including 3 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, concertos for violin, cello, harp and flute, and many chamber works. The five string quartets we have here, the only ones to survive, span the duration of his life. He himself was not only familiar with the quartet repertoire, but also played violin and viola in various ensembles. This intimate knowledge stood him in good stead when he came to compose his own.

The first two quartets were written in 1843 and 1851, and sound rather derivative. Reinecke was 19 when he composed No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 16 and it has the Mendelssohnian fingerprint all over it, though it lacks the quality of the older composer’s work. Having said that, it isn’t impoverished in terms of melody. The first subject of the opening Allegro agitato, for example, has a certain allure. In No. 2 in F major, Op. 30, Schumann seems to be more of an abiding influence and, once again, it has its pleasing lyrical moments. I particularly like the second movement Andante, the underlying melancholy of which has a wistful longing. The composer was 50 when he penned the Third String Quartet in C major, Op. 132 and it is a much more accomplished affair altogether. Less influenced by others, Reinecke has made great strides towards finding his own voice, and the work can be seen as a bridge between the early efforts and Nos. 4 and 5.

The final two quartets are in a different league. In the Fourth in D major Op. 211, a brief sombre Lento ushers in an animated opening movement. A tender, ardent Adagio follows. The brief Scherzo is playful and whimsical, with the finale optimistic and cheery. No. 5 in G minor, Op. 287, written at the end of his life and published the year of his death, is even better. The first movement has an autumnal cast reminiscent of Brahms, and it precedes an expansive slow movement which extends the autumnal flavour. The finale, which follows an Allegretto, starts nobly with a sense of portent, but soon becomes more spirited.

Despite some of the quartets’ relative shortcomings, and although they don’t reach the inspirational heights of some, they do offer the listener a positive experience. I’ve enjoyed them immensely, especially Nos. 4 and 5. The set will appeal especially to those, like myself, who have a constant desire to explore less well-trodden territory. The release is given an extra boost by the infectious enthusiasm and commitment of the Reinhold-Quartett, who have taken these works to their hearts. They have been captured in superb sound. Chamber music lovers need not hesitate.

Stephen Greenbank

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