NIELSEN String Quartets
Vol. 1 (Op. 14 in Eb and Op. 44 in F major)
Vol. 2 (No. 2, Op.5 in F minor & No. 1, Op.13 in G minor)
Naxos 8.553908 62'
Vol. 1 (No. 1, Op. 13 in G minor & No. 4, Op. 44 in F major) with Little
Suite Op. 1
Chandos CHAN 9635
Vol. 2 (No. 2, Op. 5 in F minor & No. 3, Op. 14 in Eb)
Chandos CHAN 9817
Carl Nielsen's string quartets are an interesting byway in his
development. They are also, as the above listing will suggest, something
of a minefield of confusion in their nomenclature. The problem arises because
the first to be composed (apart from an earlier, unpublished one) was completed
in 1888 and revised as Op. 13 ten years later. The Eb quartet was performed
in 1899, then the manuscript was lost on the way to the printers and it was
reconstructed from memory the next year, revised in 1919 & published
in 1923. The F minor was written in 1890 and published first. Op. 19 in 1906
became the Op. 44 in 1919. I hope that makes it all clear?
What about the music? It is all relatively early. The G minor in its revised
version showed Nielsen's voice emerging and the F major has a clarity of
texture, unusual key relationships and chromatic twists which extend classical
tonality. It is pleasant music, but the essential Nielsen remains in his
orchestral music, and they are unlikely to enter the string quartet canon.
Both Scandinavian quartets play well. Volume 1 of the Chandos has a bonus,
Nielsen's remarkably assured Op. 1, which was soon followed by his remarkable
first symphony. This Little Suite for strings is usually played by
string orchestra. The Zapolski's eponymous leader has arranged it for string
quartet, in which form it sounds perfectly idiomatic - there is no information
what was involved in the arrangement.
None of this is decisive for choice. The Naxos is of course the cheaper choice.
It may need a little attenuation of the treble at times. The Zapolski's have
a smoother recorded sound, which many would prefer. You get different couplings
and either set rates a general rating of about three stars in my book. I
would advise sampling if possible before committing yourself.
Peter Grahame Woolf