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Leone SINIGAGLIA (1868-1944)
Complete Works for String Quartet - Volume 1
Concert-…tude in D major, Op.5 (pub c. 1901) [6:21]
2 CharacterstŁcke, Op.35 (pub 1910) [9:11]
Variations on a Theme of Brahms, Op.22 (1901) [9:52]
Scherzo, Op.8 (1892) [3:32]
Hora Mystica (1890) [2:49]
String Quartet in D major, Op. 27 (1902) [32:17]
Archos Quartet
rec. 2019, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
NAXOS 8.574183 [64:26]

As Ivan Moody points out in his notes to this disc, Leone Sinigaglia was as accomplished a mountaineer as he was a composer. An equally notable fact about Sinigaglia was that, rare among Italian composers of his time, he completely avoided opera. The majority of his compositions are for chamber combinations or orchestra, and this disc, containing all world premieres, demonstrates his fluency with the string quartet, from the early Hora Mystica to the two CharacterstŁcke of twenty years later.

Besides his musical and mountain-climbing activities Sinigaglia was also notable in having his later training not in Italy, but in Vienna and Prague. For more details about this and other aspects of the composer’s life I refer the reader to Christopher Howell’s excellent review of the only Sinigaglia biography [link]. Suffice it to say that Sinigaglia spent the years 1894-1900 in these two cities, where he was befriended by Brahms and studied with Dvorak. It seems almost too obvious to say that his music combines elements of Central European solidity with Italian lyricism, but that is exactly what one hears in his Variations on a Theme of Brahms, a set of variations so compact that the piece takes only about ten minutes in performance. But in that ten minutes a lot of emotional territory is traversed, from the nostalgic to the majestic to the Slavic-sounding. The final variation serves as a fine apotheosis of all that has gone before; it is a shame this piece has not been adopted by quartets.

The Concert-…tude Op. 5 dates from the same period as the Variations and was written for the famous Bohemian Quartet. The main theme reminds one of Dvorak but the development section is more individual. Very different is the brief Hora Mystica, dedicated to a sculptor friend of Sinigaglia’s family. This is quite dramatic and effective, immediately drawing in the listener. It would make a perfect encore for a quartet recital. Two years after Hora Mystica Sinigaglia wrote the Scherzo Op. 8, more superficial than the other works on this disc, but not without an appealing central section.

A year after returning to Italy Sinigaglia wrote his String Quartet in D, a work that synthesizes his various influences. Its opening is genial and immediately arresting, and the development is full of variety, leading to a fine coda. The scherzo movement opens as genially as its predecessor while the trio is full of rhythmic changes, slightly reminiscent of early Korngold, before a truncated reprise of the scherzo. I was again reminded of Korngold while listening to the adagio movement with its nocturnal feeling and underlying sense of passion. It also demonstrates the technical facility the composer had achieved by this point in his career. The “con spirito” finale sums up the tendencies of all the preceding movements, but at the end geniality once again is foremost.

With the two works of Op. 35 we have the mature Sinigaglia-indeed, he wrote only half a dozen works during the rest of his life. The Regenlied (Rain Song) is very moving-small in scale but of real emotional depth, and the coda is almost heart-breaking. While the …tude-Caprice is not as profound, there is a lot more here than the title would suggest, and one cannot deny its manifest charm. Nb. Regenlied is the only item on this disc that has been recorded before, albeit in its version for string orchestra (review).

The Archos Quartet was formed in 2009 in Lubeck, with personnel deriving from several countries. I believe that this is their first recording, although they can be seen on YouTube. The quartet has a warm sound, especially evident in Hora Mystica, but at the same time the players do not neglect Sinigaglia’s sense of structure, most prominently represented in the Variations. These same qualities are well-blended in their rendition of the String Quartet. While I found their playing occasionally scrappy, more often it was quite deft, and always fresh. There remain just enough works for a second volume of Sinigaglia music for quartet, if we include the String Trio, and the fact that this disc is entitled Vol. 1 leads us to hope that the Archos Quartet will soon give us another volume; something greatly to look forward to.

William Kreindler

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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