Schuster: Quartetti padovani No. 1; Quartetti padovani No. 2; Quartetti padovani No. 3; Quartetti padovani No. 4; Quartetti padovani No. 5; Quartetti padovani No. 6

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COMPOSERS: Schuster
LABELS: Symphonia
WORKS: Quartetti padovani No. 1; Quartetti padovani No. 2; Quartetti padovani No. 3; Quartetti padovani No. 4; Quartetti padovani No. 5; Quartetti padovani No. 6
PERFORMER: Joseph Joachim Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SY 01185
Joseph Schuster (1748-1812) is barely a footnote in musical history today. But in his lifetime the Dresden Kapellmeister was one of Germany’s most popular composers, especially for his operas and keyboard works. In 1778 a group of Schuster’s violin sonatas even won the approval of Mozart (‘Not bad’ – praise indeed), and may have prompted him to write his own set of sonatas. There is a Mozartian connection, too, with the first of these ‘Paduan’ string quartets, in C major, which for some years was misattributed to Mozart and found its way into the Köchel catalogue. Superficially, I suppose, the quartets might pass as early Mozart, though the composer who comes to mind most often is Boccherini. Like the Italian’s, Schuster’s music tends to be leisurely and decorative, formally casual (at least by Haydn’s and Mozart’s standards) and full of picturesque textures – guitar effects, bagpipe drones and the like. There is no standard design to these quartets: some begin with a slow movement, one (the A major, No. 4) is in two movements, ending with a perky set of variations on a French popular song, while No. 6, in D minor, enfolds a fugue within a neo-Baroque Largo. As with so many minor composers of the time, Schuster’s invention can lapse into off-the-peg Rococo. But there’s some engaging, undemanding listening here, and occasionally – in, say, the grave Adagio of the C major, with its Corellian suspensions – rather more. The performances are lively and stylish enough, though it took me a while to adjust to the Joachim Quartet’s austere, viol-like sonorities. Richard Wigmore

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