Cherubini: String Quartet No. 1 in E flat; String Quartet No. 2 in C

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COMPOSERS: Cherubini
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in E flat; String Quartet No. 2 in C
PERFORMER: David Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1003
Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest dramatic composer of the day, and preferred his Requiem to Mozart’s. The respect seems to have been mutual: when, in 1825, Cherubini was asked why he hadn’t composed any string quartets, he replied, ‘If Beethoven had never written a quartet, I would write quartets; as it is, I cannot.’ Cherubini was being a touch disingenuous: he had actually composed his first quartet more than a decade earlier, but perhaps wisely had kept it to himself. Its material is undistinguished, and with the exception of the scherzo – a piece of Mendelssohnian lightness – the quartet writing rather unidiomatic. Most of Cherubini’s second quartet, written two years after Beethoven’s death, is freely adapted from his Symphony in D major. ‘Too quartet-like for a symphony, too symphonic for a quartet’ was Schumann’s wry but accurate judgement.

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The David Quartet is to be commended for its valiant rescue-effort, but it has to be said that this music needs a good deal more help than it gets here. The performances are workmanlike rather than distinguished, with a general reluctance to shape and shade the music, and there are times when the players sound technically over-stretched. The rather up-front recording only exacerbates the overall lack of charm. Misha Donat