Sibelius: String Quartets (complete)

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LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: String Quartets (complete)
PERFORMER: Sibelius Academy Quartet, New Helsinki Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-40872-2 Reissue (1985-98)
There is only one mature Sibelius quartet, Voces intimae, and this set includes the New Helsinki Quartet’s recording, arguably the finest around. Sibelius’s earliest years were almost exclusively dominated by chamber music: the E flat Quartet of 1885 is a well-schooled exercise, modelled on the Viennese classics, and certainly shows that Sibelius knew his Haydn. He would probably not be best pleased to see it in the public domain. The A minor of 1889, also a student work, is an altogether different matter. Long thought lost, as only the first violin part survived, it came to light in his brother Christian’s library. It was revealed to have a gentle Nordic melancholy and something of the freshness of Dvorák and Grieg. At first Sibelius thought well enough of it to list it as Op. 2, and to call its successor, the B flat, No. 2, though he later had second thoughts. In fact he never published either and actively discouraged their performance. (The second movement of the B flat bears a resemblance to one of the themes from Rakastava which was to follow in 1894.) Sibelius was undoubtedly too harsh in his judgements, for they are well worth a place in the repertoire – the scherzo of the A minor is a wonderful piece. The performances are first-rate and are generally well served by the engineers. Strongly recommended. Robert Layton