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Friday, March 28, 2008

Some Pleasant String Quartets

Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)

String Quartet No. 2 in G, Op. 70, No. 2. (1812) [26:29]
String Quartet No. 20 in f minor, WoO 48 (ca. 1837) [33:39]

Schuppanzigh Quartett

Anton Steck (violin)
Christoph Mayer (violin)
Christian Goosses (viola)
Antje Geusen, (cello)

Recorded at the German Radio Chamber Music Hall, 13-16 April, 2005.

cpo 777227-2 [60:13]

Ferdinand Ries was a student of Beethoven and a prolific composer, respected during his lifetime if not lastingly famous. The string quartet was amongst his favorite genres, as he took up the form some twenty-five times in his career, although a significant number of these compositions remained unpublished. In this recording we have two fine examples, bookends of his compositional career.

The G major quartet is well crafted and makes for pleasant enough listening, rather a diluted Mendelssohn, without the latter composer’s gift for melody and rich harmonies. The Schuppanzigh deliver a well turned performance, with a warm rich tone, tight ensemble and spot on intonation.

The prize here is the latter work, of such a high quality that one wonders why the composer never had it published. It is on a par with the quartets of Schubert, and is in fact, somewhat better constructed given Schubert’s tendency to go overboard with longer forms. The substantial opening movement shifts deftly between darkness and light, opening with a rather brooding minor subject and flowing into some rollicking major mode tunefulness. Its triple meter slow movement is an elegant three part form, starting with a lovely Mozartean melody, shifting into a somewhat turbulent b-section, and then rounding off nicely with a modified return of the first material. A brief but tasty minor key minuet follows, and concludes with a rollicking finale. This is a work of considerable depth, yet it never takes itself so seriously as to lose its sunny air, this in spite of the minor key center.

Production values are typical of CPO’s high standards, but I do wish they would tighten up their program notes. German scholarly writing has always tended toward the wordy and obtuse anyway, and reading these lengthy, blow-by-blow descriptions of the music in English becomes deadly dull. I often find this label’s program booklets a dreaded chore to wade through.

The Schuppanzigh-Quartett have produced other fine recordings for CPO and this one is certainly no exception. They play with a fine sense of lyricism and panache. If you love string quartets as much as I do, you will want to add this disc to your collection, and since this is labeled as Volume two, it will most likely be worthwhile to investigate the first disc in the series as well.

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