Gade; Grieg: Leipzig String Quartet

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gade; Grieg
LABELS: MDG Gold
WORKS: Gade: String Quartet in F; Grieg: String Quartet in G minor
PERFORMER: Leipzig String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 1870-2

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Danish composer Niels Gade enjoys a reputation as a staunchly traditional 19th-century figure, upholding Classical principles absorbed in Leipzig during the 1840s when he came under the strong influence of Mendelssohn. Yet this impression is somewhat misleading if we take into account his early and distinctly unconventional String Quartet Wilkommen und Abschied, each of its three movements inspired by lines from a poem of the same name by Goethe. The link between poem and music is made pretty explicit throughout the work, especially the depiction of the joys of love in the ardently expressive central Adagio, and the growing sense of unease that characterises the ensuing Serenata scherzando. Somewhat frustratingly, Gade didn’t fully sketch this final movement, though there is sufficient existing material to provide a perfectly convincing reconstruction.

Grieg followed in the footsteps of Gade by also working in Leipzig. However, his experiences there were far less felicitous than his older contemporary and he soon came to reject stifling German academicism in favour of a much more radical style influenced by Norwegian folk music. This new musical language is presented with some defiance in the G minor String Quartet, a work that is peppered with chromatic harmonies that look forward to Debussy.

The Leipzig String Quartet delivers a fervent account of the Gade. Their Grieg is also effectively projected, but I don’t find it quite as exciting or provocative as the high-voltage account from the Hagen Quartet on the Myrios label which remains my first choice for this work.

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Erik Levi