Grieg/Johansen

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Grieg/Johansen
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: String Quartet in G minor; String Quartet in F; Johansen: String Quartet, Op. 35
PERFORMER: Oslo Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550879 DDD
Grieg only completed one string quartet which still survives; a student work in D minor appears to have been lost and the composer only finished two movements of an F major quartet from 1891. This is a pity, since the G minor quartet is an arresting work with a first movement shot through with fire and imagination, stamped all over with the composer’s clear personal imprint. Though more modest in scale, the remaining movements throw up fascinating contradictions, with Grieg, the easygoing miniaturist, veering into unexpected, sometimes alarming depths.

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Grieg’s open-hearted, unfinished F major quartet and a complete quartet by David Monrad Johansen (1969) are welcome makeweights; the latter is the only available recording of a work which, if at times a little predictable, throws interesting light on the later stages of Norwegian nationalism. The Oslo Quartet captures the storm and stress of the G minor quartet splendidly, although in some of the more frenetic passages the intonation tends to loosen. The recorded sound is immediate without being oppressive and the whole stands up well to not especially stiff competition from rival quartets in the same repertoire. Jan Smaczny