Svendsen: String Quartet in A minor; Octet in A

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WORKS: String Quartet in A minor; Octet in A
PERFORMER: Kontra Quartet
These are diverting rarities from Johan Svendsen’s student years in Leipzig (1862-8) – where his compatriot Edvard Grieg also studied. Grieg’s folkloristic simplicity contrasts powerfully with Svendsen’s cosmopolitanism and independent spirit, qualities never fully understood by his teacher, Carl Reinecke. Svendsen’s A minor Quartet (1865) is an impetuous, gripping work: it is played with unswerving authority by the Kontra Quartet. It catches the volcanic fervour of this music wonderfully, and I can’t imagine its performances being bettered. Svendsen’s Octet, influenced as much by Danish composer Niels Gade’s Op. 17 Octet of 1848 as by Mendelssohn’s youthful essay, invokes lush, quasi-orchestral sonorities and bold thematic material of surprising originality. This thrilling account makes out a cast-iron case for another under-subscribed work, and the BIS recording is outstanding. Highly recommended. Michael Jameson