Cherubini: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Cherubini
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: David Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1004
Posterity has tended to view Luigi Cherubini in much less glowing terms than Beethoven who in 1817 unequivocally regarded his colleague as the greatest composer of the day. Yet hearing these marvellous quartets one can understand the justification of such a statement. This music betokens a composer of an unusually strong personality. There are obvious parallels with Beethoven, particularly in the recourse to unpredictable modulations, sudden outbursts of irascibility and an exploratory treatment of scherzo movements. Added to this is an operatic lyricism and an ebullience that betray Cherubini’s Italian heritage.

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Astonishingly, the David Quartet has the field to itself, the much-venerated Melos Quartet recordings of the Seventies having disappeared from the catalogue some time ago. The David is particularly successful in projecting the dramatic character of the D minor Quartet’s first movement, though the Melos perhaps created more of an air of mystery in the subdued chorale passages. Nonetheless, the warmth and generosity of tone in the slow movements of both works are irresistible, and despite some momentary slips of intonation in the central section of the D minor Scherzo, the playing is always brilliantly alive to Cherubini’s ever-changing moods. BIS’s resonant recording has a good deal of presence, though it perhaps undermines the dynamic range of the playing at times. Erik Levi