WORKS: String Quartet in F sharp minor, Op. 46/1; String Quartet in C minor, Op. 56; Variations on God Save the King
PERFORMER: Coull String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 808 DDD
Georges Onslow’s star has waned dramatically since his death in 1853. Brought up in France (where his father had been forced to flee following a sexual scandal), his considerable output of music included four operas, four symphonies and over a hundred chamber pieces. Among his admirers were Schubert and the Philharmonic Society of London, who elected him an honorary member, an honour previously accorded only to Mendelssohn. On the evidence of this disc from the Coull String Quartet, who give two complete quartets and a movement of variations based on ‘God Save the King’, the subsequent neglect of Onslow’s music seems unjust. While these quartets lack the formal daring of Beethoven (Onslow rather takes Haydn as his model) or the intensity of Schubert, they still possess drama and a consistent melodic charm, particularly in the extensive and inventive use of the cello, Onslow’s own instrument.
Most interesting here is the autobiographically programmatic Quartet in C minor, which records the impact of a hunting accident that left the composer partially deaf. The Coull String Quartet, expressive and elegant by turn, makes an eloquent case for Onslow’s rehabilitation. William Humphreys-Jones