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C.f.e. Horneman & Asger Hamerik: String Quartets

Horneman / Arild String Quartet
Release Date: 04/30/2013 
Label:  Dacapo   Catalog #: 8226097   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Christian Frederik Emil HAsger Hamerik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arild String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HORNEMAN String Quartets: No. 2 in D; No. 1 in g. HAMERIK Quartetto in a Arild Srt Qrt DACAPO 8.226097 (52:55)

For details on the life and times of Christian Frederik Emil Horneman (1840–1906)—usually given as just C. F. E. Horneman—I refer you to a review of a Dacapo SACD containing orchestral works by the composer, submitted a little over a year ago in 35: 6. At hand, as far as I know, is a first recording of Read more Horneman’s G-Minor String Quartet (though it’s not advertised as such), and only a second of his D-Major String Quartet; the previous one by the Copenhagen String Quartet dates back to 1969.

By the mid 1850s, Horneman’s father had achieved sufficient financial security to be able to send his son to study at the Mendelssohn-founded Conservatory in Leipzig. It was here that the teenaged student met Grieg and was indoctrinated into the strongly Germanic leanings of the school. Unlike Grieg, however, who managed to overcome a good deal of that influence and go on to acquire a voice of his own that found expression in his Nordic roots, Horneman remained a creature of his training, at least insofar as his two quartets on this disc are concerned, both of which are products of his youth.

If you love the string quartets of Mendelssohn, you’ll be instantly smitten by Horneman’s G-Minor Quartet. Written in 1859 while the 19-year-old composer was still a student at the Conservatory, the work was submitted by Horneman for his final exam; and unless you are intimately familiar with every single one of Mendelssohn’s quartets, you could very easily be led to believe that this was an authentic piece from the hand of Felix himself.

The D-Major Quartet dates from only two years later and, again, it’s Mendelssohn that informs its pages of fast music. But now, in the slow movement, there’s a distinct echo of the style one hears in the slow movements of Beethoven’s middle quartets, though Horneman’s harmonic vocabulary is not quite as startling as Beethoven’s can be. Schubert, too, makes a brief appearance in the unusual minor-keyed Minuet.

Asger Hamerik (1843–1923) and Horneman were first cousins, their mothers being sisters; and in turn, the two sisters were cousins of Emma Hartmann, wife of composer J. P. E. Hartmann. Hamerik’s early training closely paralleled that of Horneman, but after studying with Hartmann and Niels Gade, Hamerik’s path diverged dramatically from his cousin’s, setting him on a course that would lead to an international career.

About the time that Horneman was composing his D-Major String Quartet, Hamerik traveled first to London, then to Berlin to study with Hans von Bülow, and then on to Paris, where he became a protégé of Berlioz. Further travels to Italy and Vienna advanced his reputation, leading to an offer, which Hamerik accepted, to become the director of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, a position he held until 1898. In 1900, he returned to Denmark with his American wife, pianist Margaret Williams.

Hamerik’s output is not large—only 41 works with opus numbers are cataloged—but most of his compositions fall into the category of the big orchestral and vocal genres: seven symphonies, several suites, and four operas, two of which are to his own librettos. I don’t know if there was any Jewish blood in Hamerik’s family lineage—his original name was Hammerich, which he changed himself—but one of his orchestral suites, op. 19, is titled Jewish Trilogy . His works are said to exhibit the influence of his contact with Berlioz and then, later, his exposure to the music of Franck and Dukas. There has also been a suggestion that Hamerik’s choral Seventh Symphony (1901–1906), in its use of expanded tonality and “vagrant chords,” acknowledges chronologically contemporaneous works by Mahler.

There’s little point in comparing Hamerik’s quartet on this disc to Horneman’s two string quartets. For one thing, Hamerik was an altogether more cosmopolitan composer than his cousin, his music reflecting a much broader spectrum of multinational influences. And second, chamber music was not Hamerik’s thing. What we have here is not even a complete quartet, but rather a single six-minute Allegro energico which, in all likelihood, was to be the first movement of a score that was either never completed or the rest of which has been lost. Unfortunately, album note author, Inger Sørensen, doesn’t know which. It’s clear, though, from the sound of the piece, which is not that much different in style from the quartets by Horneman, and the fact that Hamerik published the score under his original name, Hammerich, that it’s a very early work, probably dating from around 1858, or before he departed Denmark for London and Berlin, and not representative of the large symphonic, orchestral, and choral scores by which Hamerik retains a tenuous hold at the wings of today’s concert stages.

Since 1998, the Arild String Quartet has been at the forefront of Danish chamber-music ensembles, and with good reason. The playing on this disc is technically expert and musically attuned to these lovely works, which, if nothing else, are tuneful, harmonically pleasing to the ear, and brimming with the dramatically urgent, rapid, running passages that are so common a feature in Mendelssohn’s quartets. Masterpieces Horneman’s and Hamerik’s quartets are not, but their performances by the Arild String Quartet and recording by Dacapo are alive and alert.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

String quartet No 2 in D major by Christian Frederik Emil H
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arild String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861 
Venue:  Takkelloftet, Operaen, Copenhagen 
Length: 5 Minutes 39 Secs. 
Quartetto by Asger Hamerik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arild String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859 
Venue:  Takkelloftet, Operaen, Copenhagen 
Length: 6 Minutes 16 Secs. 
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor by Christian Frederik Emil H
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Arild String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859 
Venue:  Takkelloftet, Operaen, Copenhagen 
Length: 24 Minutes 20 Secs. 

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