Sibelius, Grieg

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COMPOSERS: Grieg,Sibelius
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: String Quartet, Op. 56 (Voces intimae)
PERFORMER: New Helsinki Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21445-2
This CD is called Inner Voices, a better translation of Voces intimae than the usual ‘Intimate Voices’, and it couples the two major Nordic quartets together. Of course, Sibelius wrote three earlier quartets and planned others at the time of the Fourth Symphony, and Grieg completed two movements of a Second Quartet. Although Sibelius wrote that ‘with the Quartet I have left the training ship and gained my master’s certificate’, the seas on which he embarked were to be symphonic. The fusion between the first two movements is by no manner of means as remarkable as his achievement in the Fifth Symphony, but it is still highly innovative. Its emotional centre of gravity is the slow movement, which foreshadows the Fourth Symphony in its balance of pensive lyricism and a sense of the ethereal. (Sibelius’s friend, the poet Gripenberg spoke of those rapt chords that interrupt the piece as ‘a distant murmur from a distant world’.) While Sibelius in the slow movement is torn between the physical world and the world beyond, the Grieg Quartet is altogether earthier and more impassioned, and the New Helsinki Quartet encompasses both its tenderness and vigour. They were the winners of the 1994 London Competition and play with great spirit and intelligence, wide dynamic range and a well-blended tone. The Guarneri Quartet has recorded this coupling but the Finnish ensemble is more natural in every way, and its Grieg can hold its own with all comers. In short, this is as good an account of either piece as I have heard for a long time, and the recording is vivid and present. Robert Layton