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Friedrich Theodor FRÖHLICH (1803–1836)
String Quartet in g minor (1826) [26:22]
String Quartet in E (1827/28) [21:46]
String Quartet in c minor (1832) [23:27]
Beethoven Quartett [Mátyás Bartha, Laurentius Bonitz (violins); Vahagn Aristakesyan (viola); Carlos Conrad (cello)]
rec. bmm-medien, Hans Huber-Saal, Basel, 23 April, 15-16 June 2015. DDD.

Reviewed as lossless download from (mp3 and lossless, no booklet).  Booklet available from Naxos Music Library.

I owe the discovery of Fröhlich’s String Quartets to my colleague Michael Wilkinson who made a new CPO 2-CD set of all the quartets a Recording of the Month (Rasumowsky Quartett: CPO 5550172).  I listened to those recordings as streamed in lossless sound from (COL) and thoroughly enjoyed the music, performances and recording.  At £15.99 the COL download is slightly less expensive than the CD set and it comes complete with the booklet.

The CPO recording offers four works, the three listed above plus a String Quartet in f minor.  The performances also include more repeats than those from the Beethoven Quartett, so run to two reasonably well-filled discs.

The single-CD collection from Musiques Suisses can be downloaded from in lossless sound for $12.89 but the only UK source I have found for the CD is charging £26.33, more than you need pay for the CPO 2-disc set.

Fröhlich’s name – meaning ‘happy’ – somewhat belies the tone of his music. Spurned by his idol Mendelssohn, he returned to his native Switzerland and, depressed at his lack of success, drowned himself in the River Aare in his early thirties – the very river which flows past the town of Aarau, depicted in an idyllic painting on the CD cover.  His lack of success is perhaps understandable when one thinks of the wealth of music composed in the 1820s and early 1830s – Mendelsohn’s first two quartets were composed in 1827 and 1829 – but Fröhlich’s string quartets, which he seems not to have rated as his best output, are well worth getting to know.

The publicity material speaks of his ‘refreshing and natural’ qualities but there is also an underlying seriousness to the music which exempts it from any suggestion of sounding facile.  If anything the Beethoven Quartett seem to find slightly greater depth than the Rasumowsky but there’s very little in it.  Try the adagio con molto espressione of the E-major and both groups, within a whisker of the same tempo, offer music which Mendelssohn might have been proud to have written.

Otherwise the choice between the two recordings can safely be made between a single-download selection without all the repeats and a 2-CD set with repeats.  I normally prefer performances with repeats as maintaining the composer’s intended structure, though Dvořák for one appears to have ignored his own directions in performance.  In this case I’m quite happy with the shorter Beethoven Quartett performances.

Both groups are based in Fröhlich’s native Switzerland: the Rasumowsky Quartett in Bern, while the Beethoven Quartett have also made the transition from Bonn to Basel, where their recording was made.  Of course it’s not necessary to have a Swiss-based ensemble play the music but it was presumably the location which drew both groups’ attention to Fröhlich.  I’m very glad it did.

Both recordings come with informative booklets, though it detracts from the download that it comes without that booklet and I had to obtain it from Naxos Music Library.  Having listened to both as lossless streamings or downloads, I find no difference of any consequence between the two recordings.  Do try one or the other.

Brian Wilson

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