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George ONSLOW (1784-1853)
String Quintet op. 74 E minor [27:21]
String Quintet op. 33 B flat Major [31:40]
Sextet op. 30 in E flat Major [35:26]
Quintet op. 79bis B flat Major [37:23]
Gianluca Luisi (piano)
Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt
rec. 2003/6, Zentralsaal Bamberg; Fürstliche Reitbahn Arolsen, Germany
MDG 603 2117-2 [59:16 + 73:02]

This attractively-priced, double CD reissue couples two long-sold-out single discs which originally graced the pages of the MDG catalogue and whose reissue was much requested - by me at least.

Born in Clermont-Ferrand in France, George Onslow was the son of a disgraced English aristocrat who had fled England to escape embarrassment and scandal. His autobiography points to musical education as being of little importance to his father; however, his father was implicated as a counter-revolutionary during the French Revolution and was forced to leave France, and in exile Onslow studied piano with Jan Ladislav Dussek, then was sent to England to stay with his family where he met Antonín Reicha, with whom he perfected his pianistic and compositional skills.

The two quintets for string quartet and double bass, were originally released on a single disc (MDG 603 1233-2), for which I had long been searching and had almost given up hope of finding. It was then more usual to employ a second cello in a string quintet but it seems that in his many quintets the composer’s preferred choice for a second instrument was the double bass. These are entertaining works which have given me great enjoyment; they show a mastery of the classical form with more than a nod towards the Romantic movement. I particularly enjoyed the Op. 33 Quintet with its charming opening Allegro con brio. However, the second movement Andante mestoso makes the greatest impression, its rich melodies firmly placing it in the Romantic tradition. An almost mournful opening leads into a more animated second section, then the third movement is the epitome of the classical Minuetto and the Finale rounds off this wonderful work with charm, grace and panache.

The second disc presents the works with piano and has been known to me for some time now as I managed to get a copy of the original disc (MDG 603 1442-2). It opens with the lovely Sextet, scored for piano, string quartet and double bass and dedicated to Onslow’s friend Johann Nepomuk Hummel. The Minuetto contains the works most memorable music, with its bouncy, catchy rhythm, but I once again find myself drawn to the work’s slow movement, whose charming tune is the basis for a set of variations. The Quintet for piano quartet and double bass, is a slightly less memorable work; here, it is the outer two movements that have always made the greatest impression on me, with their strong leaning towards the Romantic in the way that Onslow develops their main thematic material.

All four of these works are performed superbly well by the strings of the Ensemble Concertant Frankfurt; the addition of Gianluca Luisi’s piano for the works on the second disc only serves to heighten the enjoyment. The beautiful, well-balanced recorded sound comes up to MDG’s usual standard. The excellent notes seem to be derived from the original booklets. This is a wonderful re-entry into the catalogue.

Stuart Sillitoe

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