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Bruckner: String Quintet; String Quartet

Altomonte Ensemble (Gramola)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

String Quintet; String Quartet
Altomonte Ensemble
Gramola 99241   79:31 mins

Bruckner wrote little chamber music, and this disc contains all one is ever likely to encounter. His String Quartet is a comparatively early work, the result of his studies with Simon Sechter who had taught Schubert. This Quartet is reminiscent of that great master, except that it is very economical with melodies, which does mark quite a difference. In fact it does tend to sound rather like a series of bridge passages which don’t serve to connect anything of interest. Harmless, to be listened to once or twice by the dedicated Brucknerian.

The larger work is the String Quintet, for  two violins, two violas and cello. It was written in Bruckner’s full maturity, between his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. You’d never guess it. Try as I can and have, I find it dismally uninspired apart from some passages in the Andante/Adagio movement, placed third. Played to the ‘innocent ear’, much of it would suggest a student’s exercises, and short sections might be taken to be by a not-very-gifted late-19th-century Viennese composer. It has Bruckner’s mannerisms, which often work to sublime effect in his symphonies – but when in the Quintet he essays colossal climaxes followed by pregnant silences, the results are nearly comic. The performance is led by Remy Ballot, a noble conductor of the symphonies, but if anything too eager to make the Quintet sound as much like them as he can – and that is not a sensible endeavour.

Michael Tanner