Wolf: String Quartet in D minor; Italian Serenade

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COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: String Quartet in D minor; Italian Serenade
PERFORMER: Fine Arts Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.024
The effervescent Italian Serenade is Wolf’s single famous non-vocal work, but his sombre early D minor String Quartet is more than a mere curiosity. Wolf was just 19 when he completed its opening movement – a piece that bears the unmistakable imprint of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op. 133 and the F minor Quartet Op. 95. But for all the awkwardness of the actual quartet-writing, there is no doubting the music’s emotional sincerity. The scherzo and the slow movement, with its echoes of Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture, followed soon afterwards, though it wasn’t until four years later that Wolf added the lighter-toned finale. He submitted the completed score to the famous Rosé Quartet, at a time when he had been making a series of vitriolic attacks on Brahms. Not surprisingly, the piece was rejected, and Wolf was told to collect it from the porter at the Hofoper before it was disposed of.

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The D minor Quartet is a work that makes severe demands on the players, and few are those willing to risk programming it in public. The Fine Arts Quartet makes as strong a case for it as one could wish, in a performance that carries real conviction; and the Italian Serenade, if not the fleetest account imaginable, is also most attractively done. Misha Donat