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Günter RAPHAEL (1903-1960)
String Quartet No. 1 in E minor, Op. 5 (1924) [29:34]
String Quartet No. 2 in C major, Op. 9 (1925) [21:13]
String Quartet No. 6 in F major, Op. 54 (1946) [21:29]
Acacia Quartet
rec. 2017, Ölberg Church, Berlin-Kreuzberg
QUERSTAND VKJK1906 [72:13]

This long-running series, which has trawled archive performances as much as recent ones, has now reached volume seven and presents three of Günter Raphael’s string quartets. The first two were products of his very early 20s composed very shortly before Furtwängler, no less, premiered the young man’s First Symphony, an index of Raphael’s meteoric rise to recognition.

The three selected quartets trace a two-decade plus period from 1924 to 1946. The first example emphasises tonal shifts and sinewy dissonances but these are set in the context of much restful, easy flowing tranquil writing before a return to the restless unease of its opening paragraphs. The second of the two movements also reveals refined lyricism which again shuttles back and forth between extreme emotive states. The work ends with a six-minute fugue ingeniously prefaced by some deft pizzicati. Raphael here sounds strongly indebted to Reger.

The second quartet appeared the following year. Cast in five movements it’s more compressed than the two-movement but expansively designed earlier work. It’s also opens less dramatically than its predecessor enjoying a more melancholic and quiet intensity, though invariably hinting at what Raphael used to call his ‘tonal twelve-tone music’. This is invariably accompanied by a real sense of lyricism, deeply rooted in the quartet tradition stretching back to Brahms, whom, however Raphael makes no attempt explicitly to evoke. There’s also considerable variety in his youthful quartets; here the Praeludium is followed by another Regerian fugue, itself to be trumped by a very Classically oriented and calming central movement. Crisp driving energy in the scherzo - charming, loquacious – prefaces a comic Tarantella finale.

There is a gap of 22 years between this voluble, wide-ranging quartet and the Sixth, composed in the aftermath of the war, in which Raphael, classified as being of part-Jewish descent, had had to undergo a form of internal exile. As he proves, he was never to lose contact with communicative expression. A necessarily more mature work than the rather suite-like Second and the experimental First, the Sixth Quartet exemplifies the introspective refinement he could generate. He manages to pack in an expansive, unhurried and movingly quiet intensity in the central slow movement to such an extent, in fact, that I was surprised to see that only five minutes had elapsed. The finale, similarly, doesn’t strain for effect, but has a rare eloquence.

The Acacia Quartet play the three quartets with outstanding perception and technical finesse. They’ve been recorded in a rather reverberant church acoustic – I’d have preferred a studio – but it doesn’t blunt the immediacy of their playing or the appeal it makes to admirers of the composer and the genre.

Jonathan Woolf

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