Gossec: String Quartets, Op. 15

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WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 15
PERFORMER: Ad Fontes Quartet
In his symphonies and ceremonial works Gossec’s flair for imposing gestures and colourful textures can distract the ear from long stretches of commonplace invention. The string quartet, though, puts a composer’s powers of musical thinking under the microscope. And despite the refined, stylish advocacy of the Ad Fontes Quartet, these two-movement works of 1771-2 rarely offer anything beyond run-of-the-mill galanterie. Where the writer of the informative booklet note finds ‘simplicity and clarity’, I tend to hear tedium: predictable two- and four-bar phrases, static harmonies, zero developmental and contrapuntal tension. Comparison with Haydn’s contemporary Opp. 17 and 20 quartets are irrelevant, though you might detect the influence of Boccherini in the gracefully ornate lines and busy textures of the minuets that close three of the quartets. Elsewhere there is an agreeable pathos in the opening Larghetto of No. 3 – the only minor-key work here – and some picturesque sonorities in the jolly country-dance finale of No. 5. But these incidental pleasures can’t dispel the all-too-frequent impression of elegant note-spinning by a composer of fluent technique but limited imagination. Richard Wigmore