Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 1 in g. No. 2 in F
(Completed L. Chilingirian)
HELIOS 55299 (64:25)
This recording was first released in 1999 by Hyperion as 67117.
What a tonic this music is, extrovert and predominantly sunny in disposition. Grieg’s First String Quartet, of 1877 is built on the melody of Grieg’s Ibsen song,
(“Minstel”) recognizable from the A-Minor
Piano Concerto. The rich texture of the quartet is striking, the sound almost orchestral because, for instance, of the use of simultaneous double-stopping in several instruments. Liszt was impressed and declared: “It intrigued me greatly . . . this distinctive and admirable work . . .”.
The Chilingirians deliver a lovingly shaped performance, vital and sensitive. Their strongly accented rhythmic, swiftly moving opening movement has abundant attack, crisp ensemble, pin-sharp intonation through the music’s urgencies and agitations, poignancy in its yearning passages, and a nicely atmospheric, ghostly pizzicato treatment of the theme as the movement closes. The Romanza’s waltz dominates and it passes from the lilting to the dainty—even fey; the Chilingirian’s, however, never let the music slide into bathos. The Intermezzo dances along merrily and there is an engaging out-of-doors freshness in the finale, marked Presto al Saltarello, although this saltarello speaks more of the fjords.
Grieg never completed his Second String Quartet. He composed two movements in 1891, but by the time of his death in 1907, nothing else had been completed; only sketches were left. From these, Levon Chilingirian has developed two more short movements. He comments: “Deciphering the sketches proved a challenge! . . . I have tried to produce a reasonable performing version with my suggested slurs and dynamics clearly indicated. . . . The sunny key of the F-Major Quartet provides an unexpected vehicle for exploring extremes in expression.” The first movement begins in calm happiness before its serenity is brushed aside by merry turbulence. The Chilingirians rejoice in its energy and challenging chromaticism. Grieg’s second movement is a strange and somewhat oriental-sounding scherzo with a faster dance in the trio interrupted by a brutally, frenzied passage. The Grieg/Chilingirian Adagio is beautifully lyrical, with a prayer-like section leading to recitatives accompanied by dramatic tremolos, while the Finale’s happiness is contrasted by a hushed passage of Nordic beauty.
The Chilingirians have strong competition from the Oslo String Quartet on Naxos 8.550879 matching their performances in every respect. The Oslo players only include Grieg’s completed Second Quartet music, choosing to add an interesting quartet by Grieg’s biographer, David Monrad Johansen.
FANFARE: Ian Lace
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