WORKS: String Quartet in G minor; String Quartet in F; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1
PERFORMER: Petersen Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 10 476 DDD
Unheeded in the concert hall and neglected on disc, Grieg’s G minor Quartet, his only completed essay in the genre, receives unflinching advocacy from the Petersen Quartet. Their galvanic new performance eclipses rival versions from both the English and Guarneri Quartets. Widely censured for its quasi-orchestral effects and occasionally routine invention, the quartet is none the less remarkable for its highly original, if much-maligned scoring. It opens with a 12-part chord, dispersed throughout the voices using the double-stop techniques which give much of the work its uniquely sonorous concentration. A thematic motto, taken from the 35-year-old composer’s Ibsen setting ‘Spillemaend’ (The Fiddlers) provides a unifying focus throughout the quartet. The sonata form first movement juxtaposes violent disquiet and alluring lyricism. A 6/8 Romanze and the Intermezzo which follows (replacing the usual Scherzo) employ traditional Norwegian ‘Hardanger’ fiddle melodies. The finale, a whirling Presto al Saltarello, returns at its close to a triumphant reiteration of the opening motto. The posthumous F major Quartet was abandoned in 1891; the two extant movements were published in 1908 by Grieg’s Dutch colleague Julius Röntgen.
Schumann’s Op. 41 quartets, the first of which is included here, chart another young composer’s earliest excursions in a medium then dominated by the great Classical masters, and were much admired by Grieg himself. These performances leave little to be desired – the Petersens are an excellent quartet. Apart from one poorly edited passage in the Romanze of the Grieg Op. 27, the recording, too, is spectacular. Michael Jameson