Eugen d’ALBERT (1864-1932)
The Complete String Quartets

String Quartet op. 11 in E flat major [30:07]
String Quartet op. 7 in A minor [35:10]
Reinhold Quartett (Dietrich Reinhold (violin); Tobias Haupt (violin); Norbert Tunze (viola); Christoph Vietz (cello))
rec. 5-7 January 2015, Großer Lindensaal, Markkleeberg
CPO 555 012-2 [65:33]

Although born in Glasgow, Eugen d’Albert was drawn from early on towards German culture, and especially to the country's music and composers. When he eventually emigrated there he studied with Franz Liszt and rubbed shoulders with Brahms, Bruckner and von Bülow. His career traversed two paths, that of a composer and of a concert pianist. Owing to his tremendous success as a performer, composing often had to be squeezed in between concerts. Nevertheless, he produced a prolific output of opera, songs, piano music, chamber works and orchestral compositions including a Symphony and two piano concertos. I recently reviewed a recording of his wonderful cello concerto (review), a work which certainly deserves a higher profile. In 1907 he was appointed director of the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, and also held the post of Kapellmeister to the Court of Weimar. He was married six times, one of his wives being the pianist-singer Teresa Carreño.

In 1886, the twenty-two year old composer approached the violinist and conservatory director Josef Hellmesberger, through the music dealer Albert Gutmann, for his opinion on a string quartet he had been working on. He also solicited the judgment of Joseph Joachim, who was on the whole positive yet did have some reservations. The violinist sought d’Albert’s permission to perform it with his own ensemble, but this was denied, though Joachim later became the dedicatee of what was to become the composer’s Op. 7. Instead d’Albert turned to the Gewandhaus Quartet, who premiered it in January 1887 in Leipzig. Significantly, the Reinhold Quartett, founded in 1996, is formed from members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

The Op. 7 String Quartet is a delightful and accomplished work. The opening movement has an agitato feel with an underlying turbulence, and is very much cast in a Brahmsian sound-world. The composer peppers the writing with a fair helping of chromaticism, and his deft polyphonic skills make their mark. Ushered in by the cello, the slow movement is lyrical yet elegiac, and the Reinhold Quartett invest it with rapt intensity. Next up is a waltz-like scherzo marked Mäßig Bewegt (in moderate tempo). The lilting theme sounds a bit like Dvořák. The finale is a set of seven variations on a theme notable for its simplicity. D’Albert here employs a fair measure of variety and imagination.

On the back of the success of the first quartet, work was begun on a second in 1889. Concert commitments and complications in his private life, however, halted its progress, and the Op. 11 wasn’t completed and published until 1893. This time the dedication was to Brahms, who not only praised the work, but voiced some scepticism. In fact his criticism, based around the work’s perceived influences of Clementi and Beethoven’s E flat Quartet Op. 127, offended d’Albert deeply.

The first movement Andante con moto has a subdued feel, underpinned by a calm, serene and contented demeanour. A scurrying and playful scherzo follows. The sombre and contained Adagio feels like the emotional heart of the work. In its yearning disposition it isn’t difficult to assume that the personal difficulties the composer was having at the time with his marriage are echoed in its pages. An assertive finale brings the quartet to a defiant conclusion. The Reinhold Quartett’s confident and imaginative playing certainly won me over.

Although I’ve never heard the Sarastro Quartet’s rendition of the two Quartets on Christophorus, these strongly argued performances by the Reinhold Quartett fit the bill just fine. CPO’s accompanying notes are always a pleasure to read. Recorded in warm, intimate sound, instrumental detail throughout is clear and crisp. I would strongly urge readers to explore this forgotten music.

Stephen Greenbank

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