Strauss: String Quartet in A, Op. 2; String Sextet from Capriccio; Metamorphosen (arr. Leopold)

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COMPOSERS: Strauss
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quartet in A, Op. 2; String Sextet from Capriccio; Metamorphosen (arr. Leopold)
PERFORMER: Leipzig Quartet; Hartmut Rohde (viola), Michael Sanderling (cello), Christian Ockert (double bass)
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 1142-2
When will it end, the CD industry’s remorseless dredging-up of Straussian juvenilia? In this case, the teenager’s Op. 2 Quartet is the only string companion-piece to be found for the Sextet from Capriccio and Rudolf Leopold’s septet arrangement of Metamorphosen (made on the grounds that Strauss’s short score reduced his projected 11 strings to seven before he decided on 23 as his richer final number). Early versus late ought to be fascinating, but beyond the Mozart-Beethoven moulding, there’s not much to learn about the Quartet except that its material is almost mechanically repetitive and even the false pathos of the Andante cantabile hardly hints at the melodic genius of the mature composer. The Leipzig Quartet elegantly makes what it can of the phrasing and the Haydnish pauses of the finale; but we’d surely rather be listening to one of those masterly late Mozart quintets which so inspired and consoled Strauss in his last years (K406 was a Viennese team’s choice in its EMI world premiere recording of the septet-version Metamorphosen).

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The String Sextet’s more elegant homage to the Classical masters receives an ideally mobile, unsentimental performance; even the tail-end of the development never smacks of the usual notespinning. Metamorphosen for seven solo strings has its benefits – fascinating to hear the rushing viola figurations at the heart of the piece so clearly – but needs more emotional space at key points. At least the dying fall is sensitively handled, revealing the last surprise of a final harmonic sideslip not to be heard in the version we know and love. David Nice