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Karl WEIGL (1881-1949)
String Quartet No. 7 (1942) [30:19]
String Quartet No.8 (1949) [24:18]
Thomas Christian Ensemble
rec. 2017, Hans Rosbaud Studio, Baden-Baden
CPO 555 201-2 [54:45]

Written four years into his American exile, Weigl’s Seventh String Quartet was first performed by the Galimir Quartet in 1956, seven years after the composer’s death. As with so much of the composer’s music it possesses a strong sensibility, great clarity of expression and transparency of texture. Even in the introspective refinement of the first movement Weigl refuses to allow coagulation of lines; he controls colour, as he controls tempo relations, with distinction. There’s a country air feel to the scherzo, its folksy gathering point embodying an almost Bohemian gaiety, whilst the long-breathed, lyrical but almost numbed slow movement - something of a minor miracle of projection, this – hints at a kind of sublimated Mahlerian spirit. By contrast the finale is a roistering energy-packed affair.

Weigl had not lost any of his persuasive powers in the 1940s and even his last completed quartet – he died two months after finishing it – shows undiminished eloquence albeit one that, even indulging hindsight, also admits rather more unsettled emotions. Like the Seventh, the Eighth is structured in four conventional movements. Perhaps the work’s highpoint is the Andante, the beautiful sonorities of which generate a warm but valedictory feel, exceeded in immediacy by a brief, spectral dance panel that seems to recollect, through the gauze of time, a pre-war Viennese ballroom from whose intimacies Weigl had been for ever banished. The Scherzo of this quartet has plenty of well-tooled characterisation and the brief, Beethovenian-inspired slow introduction to the finale presages plenty of renewed vigour. I’m not sure I feel, in this excellent performance by the Thomas Christian Ensemble, the level of anxiety and grotesquery that Michael Haas’ customarily articulate notes suggest, but it’s true that the music generates a kind of ambivalence that abjures sunset generosity.

The quartets were recorded at sessions in December 2017 with a comparable clarity to the music. These expressive, stylistically apt readings are richly rewarding.

Jonathan Woolf

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