The Engegård Quartet play Grieg and Sibelius

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COMPOSERS: Edvard Grieg,Jean Sibelius,Olav Anton Thommessen
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg • Sibelius • Thommessen
WORKS: Grieg: String Quartet in G minor; Sibelius: String Quartet in D minor; Thommessen: String Quartet in D minor
PERFORMER: Engegård Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: BIS BIS-2102 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This album may persuade those who doubt Nordic countries have a strong string quartet tradition to think again. Grieg’s Quartet in G minor – his only surviving full-scale work in the genre – bursts out in expansive chords and thick-textured agitation, and not two minutes have gone by before the music has built to the kind of heated climax other composers might spend ten minutes reaching; this is just the beginning of a first movement full of drama. The Engegårds are equally convincing in the lighter movements that follow: the second is a waltz woozy with nostalgia, and the Intermezzo sounds appealingly as though four distinct characters have joined together for something of a shindig.

Sibelius’s 1909 Voces intimae feels more profound, and in the early movements you can hear the symphonist trying to adapt to the different parameters of chamber music. There’s a lot of unison writing, and the Engegårds’ tuning is spot on. The work’s heart is the slow third movement; thereafter, things take a rustic, lightweight turn, and even this fine performance can’t conceal that the work itself is unbalanced.

Olav Anton Thommessen’s single-movement String Quartet No. 4, Felix Remix, is based on the buzzing second movement of Mendelssohn’s E minor quartet, Op. 44 No. 2. It’s an appealing showpiece, and sits well with the Sibelius – but, at nearly twice the length of the gossamer movement that inspired it, it slightly overplays its material.

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Erica Jeal