Exquisite miniaturist that he was, Grieg managed to leave a sublime string
quartet together with an almost complete work in the genre; both reveal the
beauty and sublimity of his best music. The First Quartet is marked as Op.
27 and is four movements; rather it recalls the unpublished symphony that
Grieg suppressed. The opening movement has a wonderfully vivid Allegro molto
ed agitato that is balm to the ears; indeed it remains one of my favorite
quartet movements. The same could be said of the mercurial Romanza, an exquisite
movement full of memorable tunes and passionate melodies. This deeply felt
music is matched by the whimsical Intermezzo and a blistering Finale almost
in the mood of Mendelssohn's 'Italian' Symphony with its 'Saltarello' markings.
Dvorakian supremos, the Chilingarian turn out what may well be a definitive
performance of this work with splendid tonal plushiness and immense technical
wizardry, they are captured in the intimate acoustic of the Bristol Town
Hall, which really helps, for a lively performance.
With the Second Quartet, it is more a case of what might have been although
the structural framework and essential melodies are there just the same.
The job of reconstructing this work is explained in detail by Levon Chilingirian
who espouses on the difficulty and challenge of performing the last two movements
in an exemplary booklet note. The masterly first movement is brilliantly
played with a direct 'attacca' consistently apparent and a really beautiful
coda, sublime Grieg this one. Of course, one can only lament the mystery
of Grieg's decision to leave the quartet unfinished for the fragments that
make up the final movements indicate that there were some novel ideas there.
Still, we should rest content with what we have as the music recorded here
is wonderful nonetheless. The only real comparison to this excellent CD is
the Oslo Quartet's characterful performances on Naxos but if pressed to choose,
I would opt for the oneness and corporate vision of the Chilingirian who
lend these magical scores a certain air of authority.