Onslow: String Quintet in C minor (Bullet); String Quintet in E, Op. 39; String Quintet in B minor, Op. 40

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COMPOSERS: Onslow
LABELS: Sony Vivarte
WORKS: String Quintet in C minor (Bullet); String Quintet in E, Op. 39; String Quintet in B minor, Op. 40
PERFORMER: L’Archibudelli, Members of the Smithsonian Chamber Players
CATALOGUE NO: SK 64308 DDD
Three quintets by Georges Onslow (1784-1853) receive convincing advocacy here. That the finest of them, his C minor work, Op. 38, the Bullet Quintet, once enjoyed wide currency was due in large measure to its tragic origins. JF Halévy’s Notes sur Onslow (1855) relate how the composer sustained a bullet wound to the neck (with resultant partial hearing loss), during a hunt held in his honour in 1829. Descriptive titles (‘pain’, ‘fever and delirium’, ‘convalescence’ and ‘recovery’) for individual movements enshrine the tragedy in music which is fitfully melodramatic.

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In all three quintets, the thematic distinction and contrapuntal ingenuity of Onslow’s style is apparent. But the pronounced melancholia and air of resignation which informs these quintets underscores a pathological condition common to most of Onslow’s music.

This quality emerges powerfully in these performances. Indeed, the playing is exemplary, and recorded sound is of the highest order.

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Georges Onslow’s music (and that of many of his contemporaries) became outmoded and marginalised as the floodgates of Lisztian Romanticism burst open in the 1840s and 50s. It has much ground to reclaim, and issues of this calibre can only help. Michael Jameson