WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 1; String Quintet in C, Op. 5
PERFORMER: Oslo Quartet; Henning Kraggerud (viola)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 858-2
Svendsen was all the things that Grieg was not: he had, as both these pieces show, a natural feeling for form and an unfailing sense of proportion, as opposed to the spontaneous lyricism of the miniaturism that marks Grieg’s genius. (He also had a natural flair for the orchestra which can be seen in his captivating Op. 4, the First Symphony in D whose first performance prompted Grieg to withdraw his own First.) Like Grieg, Svendsen studied at Leipzig, but unlike his countryman, who never lost any opportunity to complain about its academicism, appeared to thrive there. Both pieces show how prodigious was his creative promise; they have astonishing assurance and, above all, freshness.
Svendsen thought in longer musical paragraphs, and his ideas have a strong lyrical momentum. One wonders what would have happened had he not succumbed to the attractions of the baton and become what we would call a ‘star’ conductor.
Opp. 1 and 5 were coupled together many years ago by the Hindar Quartet, but these Oslo players have much greater tonal blend and refinement, as well as unanimity of attack. Glorious music, absurdly neglected, very persuasively played and very well recorded. Robert Layton