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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 27 [35:17]
String Quartet No. 2 in F major, EG 117 (incomplete) [18:35]
Fugue for string quartet in F minor, EG 114 [03:15]
Meccore String Quartet
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany, October/December 2016 MDG 903 1998-6 SACD [57:09]
The string quartets of Edvard Grieg, whilst hardly his most famous or for that matter most important works, have enjoyed a number of very fine recordings. The quartets have appeared in various forms, most often with the Opus 27 coupled with another composer’s work, often Sibelius, but also as presented here with the F Major work, which is a problem in itself; do you go for the unfinished two movement version, or for the completed version edited and realised by someone else. I have both the original and completed forms, but one is always left with the question of whether Grieg would have recognised the completed work as his own. Less often do you find them coupled with the early F minor Fugue, so this recording is a winner from the start. There are also a number of recordings that present one or both of the quartets arranged for string orchestra, with in this case the ensembles making a strong case for their particular performance.
“It is a long time since I have encountered a new composition, especially a string quartet, which has intrigued me as greatly as this distinctive and admirable work by Grieg.” So wrote Franz Liszt about the Op. 27 Quartet, a work which deserves its popularity. From the opening bars of the strongly rhythmical first movement, it is clear why others have recast this work for string orchestra, it lends itself so well to the larger medium, although I have always preferred the smaller more intimate ensemble it was originally composed for. This intimacy is especially prevalent in the second movement Romanza, the opening of which always reminds me of the music for Peer Gynt, with this theme being interrupted by the more energetic folk- like second theme. The intensity of the third movement Intermezzo is pure Grieg and would fit in well with any of his orchestral suites; it is no wonder that it seems to be the movement that is included on composer compilations, especially with its second theme so reminiscent of his Hardanger tunes. The final movement begins with a beautifully pensive and slow section before the main Presto thematic material enters with some fine writing for the first violin. It is understandable why Grieg himself described the work as a “piece of his life story”.
The second work on this disc was destined to be a “light and happy sister” to the earlier G minor Quartet, but was sadly never completed. In one of the other recordings I have, Levon Chilingirian for Hyperion (CDH 55299), has completed the final two movements from sketches left by the composer; however, whilst I enjoy the recording I always find these final two movements slightly lacking and prefer to hear the quartet as left by Grieg. The work itself in my opinion is a little less inspired than the G minor work, but it still has some wonderful passages, the lilting violin phrases in the first movement for example. The second movement Scherzando is the more attractive of the two movements, with its strongly rhythmical opening giving way to a more folk inspired theme which all lovers of Grieg’s music will feel can be by no one else, especially in the way that it recalls the Op. 8 Violin Sonata.
The final work on the disc is the F minor Fugue, a student work dating from 1861. Despite this it is a mature sounding and expressive work, one which shows the composer’s mastery of the musical form of the fugue as well as his willingness to experiment within it; I have always thought it over too soon.
The playing of the Meccore String Quartet is excellent throughout and has soon become my favourite recording of the works, theirs is an electric and exciting performance but one that does not achieve this by losing accuracy or a sense of ensemble. The superb hybrid SACD sound does not allow for any loss of togetherness, something which this relatively new Polish ensemble abound in, in fact it is hard to imagine that they are not Norwegian, as they seem to have got to the heart and soul of this music. The disc is accompanied by excellent booklet notes making this a most welcome release of this beautiful music.