Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 1 in D,
No. 2 in c?,
No. 3 in G,
op. 20, “Amselrufe”
MUSIQUES SUISSES 6279 (77:05)
Hermann Suter’s D-Minor Symphony has received a couple of notices in
, as have a String Sextet and some miscellaneous chamber and choral works, but for the most
part, the work of this little-known Swiss-born composer (1870–1926) remains largely unexplored. In fact, until now, his Symphony has been the only work by which he’s represented in my collection. That may be because as a composer he produced relatively little. His main career seems to have been that of a well-respected and successful choral and orchestral conductor, who brought the works of many composers of the day to his Basel audiences. If one or another of Suter’s three string quartets has appeared on record before, I can’t say; if they have, I don’t find them currently listed.
Suter’s quartets came at almost regular 10-year intervals, op. 1 (1901), op. 10 (1910), and op. 20 (1921). Not a few passages in the first movement of the D-Major Quartet bear a striking resemblance to parallel passages in Brahms’s String Quartet No. 1, but nothing in the Brahms explains Suter’s second movement, a just over two-minute spooky-sounding scherzo, marked
Moderato, con svogliatezza
, a term not in the music dictionary, but which the Italian dictionary defines as “listlessness.” Suter translated it as “morose.” I’d add “smarmy” to the description, for the movement has a distinctly slimy, creepy feeling to it. A quite lovely, songlike
follows, which suggests the slow-movement style in Beethoven’s late quartets. It’s rudely interrupted midway through, however, by a fugue-like episode that can only be described as the musical equivalent of a verbal
. The Finale returns us to the world of Brahms, but with some twists and turns that would have elicited from the elder composer some sharp words of rebuke. My ear questions whether the key of this Quartet is actually D Major, for much of it leans towards the minor, and the whole of the last movement, along with its highly agitated Brahmsian coda, clearly ends in the minor key.
The Quartet No. 2 in C? Minor is in only two movements, but together they’re longer than the four movements combined that make up the First Quartet. In his excellent program note, Georg-Albrecht Eckle states that Suter’s choice of C? Minor for his Second Quartet reflects Beethoven’s choice of key for his op. 131 Quartet. That may be, but Beethoven is nowhere to be heard in this score. I tend to agree with Eckle that Max Reger bears some of the responsibility for Suter’s rambling essay, but there are moments when the chromatic wandering put me in mind of César Franck’s sprawling Quartet, and other moments when Suter’s string textures suggest Debussy and even early Bartók. Much of Suter’s second stab at a string quartet is fairly rough going and, I suspect, will sound incoherent to many listeners on first hearing.
The Third and last of Suter’s string quartets bears the subtitle, “Amselrufe” (Blackbird Calls). Compared to its predecessors, this work is a walk in the park, both figuratively and literally, for the music now expresses, in Eckle’s words, a kind of aloof, cheerful melancholy. Think of Delius’s
A Walk in Paradise Garden
, but served up as a dish of Swiss spaetzle instead of Cornish pasties. For sheer Romantic beauty and lyrical songfulness, this is the one quartet of the three that’s most likely to captivate you and hold you in its sway.
We have here with the Beethoven Quartet performing the works on this disc another of those unfortunate name duplications that an international name registry would preclude, if one existed. This is not
famous, long-lived Beethoven Quartet formed in 1922 by graduates of the Moscow Conservatory, the one closely associated with performing Shostakovich’s string quartets. No,
Beethoven Quartet was formed in 2006 in Bonn, and is today based in Basel, Switzerland. The four players—Mátyás Bartha and Laurentius Bonitz, violins; Vahagn Aristakesyan, viola; and Carlos Conrad, cello—project a full, rich, warm, and well-regulated ensemble sound, one which makes it possible to listen through Suter’s denser and less ear-pleasing writing, especially in the Second Quartet, without experiencing fatigue. I don’t know what, if anything else, this Beethoven Quartet has recorded, but I very much like the results it has achieved with this release, and would hope to encounter the ensemble again in the near future.
Meanwhile, Suter’s quartets can be recommended to those curious to explore the music of a composer a bit off the beaten path. Repeated hearings are sure to increase your appreciation of these works, while no repeated hearings are necessary to increase your appreciation of this very fine string quartet ensemble and excellent recording.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 1: I. Allegro brioso
String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 1: II. Moderato, con svogliatezza
String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 1: III. Larghetto
String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 1: IV. Allegro molto agitato
String Quartet No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 10: I. Moderato malinconico - Allegro impetuoso
String Quartet No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 10: II. Molto moderato, ma con grazia - Variationen
String Quartet No. 3 in G Major, Op. 20, "Amselrufe": I. Comodo - Allegro, ma non troppo, ma con spirito
String Quartet No. 3 in G Major, Op. 20, "Amselrufe": II. Allegretto vivace e grazioso (Reigen)
String Quartet No. 3 in G Major, Op. 20, "Amselrufe": III. Adagio - Presto
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