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Leone SINIGAGLIA (1868-1944)
Complete Works for String Quartet - Volume 1
Concert-Étude in D major, Op.5 (pub c 1901) [6:21]
2 Characterstücke, Op.35 (pub 1910) [9:11]
Variations on a Theme of Brahms, Op.22 (1901) [9:52]
Scherzo, Op.8 (1892) [3:32]
Hora Mystica (1890) [2:49]
String Quartet in D major, Op. 27 (1902) [32:17]
Archos Quartet
rec. 2019, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland
NAXOS 8.574183 [64:26]

Sinigaglia’s works for string quartet, of which this is the first volume, reflect those qualities of unashamed lyricism that permeate almost all his works.

The major piece is the String Quartet of 1902, published in Leipzig four years later, and cast in four conventional movements. Its gentle, easeful refinement, technically secure, shows some affinity with Dvořák, whom he had met in Prague at the turn of the century. Highpoints include a Scherzo that scores highly by virtue of its avuncular, perambulatory trio, and the romantic reverie of its slow movement. This last glides elegantly through a series of charming, sometimes Schumannesque variations, his Czech colleague audible in the music’s dying falls. Folkloric vibrancy appears in the finale, generous-spirited and none too serious.

Nothing else here matches the structural span of the 32-minute quartet but there is plenty to entertain and enjoy, foremost among them the Variations on a Theme of Brahms, written the year before the quartet. The theme is followed by sixteen very brief variations ranging from 20 to 42 seconds with the exception of the last one that stretches magnanimously to two minutes and is a fitting summation. This work was taken up by the Bohemian and Bolognese Quartets and it brings out the composer’s gift for rapid brush stroke characterisation, his qualities of elegance and refinement, and a gentle rather pastel-inspired predilection for dance motifs, such as the Mazurka.

The Concert-Étude was written for the Bohemians and is full of insouciant charm with a songful lyricism and sense of verve that proves captivating. Radenko Kostadinov, the Archos Quartet’s violist, really plays out here. The two Characterstücke, Op.35 offer bipartite pleasures; a rain song with resonant, ardent lower strings, in particular, and a cheery Étude-Caprice with a drone passage and a folksy profile. There are two very brief other pieces in this volume, the Scherzo, Op.8 which is genial and fast – its concision drives booklet writer Ivan Moody to cite William Blake, which makes a change. Hora Mystica, the earliest piece in the programme, dating from 1890 when Sinigaglia was 22, is a refined and delicate, shot through with a sublimated proto-Mahlerian beauty.

The performances by the Archos ensemble are vivid and warmly textured and bring out the rich lyricism that courses through Sinigaglia’s music. Appropriately for a world-class mountaineer there’s an appropriate cover picture to grace the booklet cover.

Expertly crafted, deftly characterised and infused with folkloric motifs – he was, after all, a master of folk song harmonisation in other contexts – this opening salvo of his quartet works, all of which are world premiere recordings, offers an hour’s worth of undiluted pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf

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