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Grieg String Quartets

No 1 in G minor Op 27, No 2 in F


Chilingirian String Quartet


Hyperion Helios CDH55299



The Chilingirians are ideal interpreters of these predictably lyrical, pastoral works. Their raw, energetic, yet technically assured approach suits the Grieg pieces well. These works require the performers to switch rapidly between extrovert display and brooding intensity; the quartet does so unimpeachably.


The First quartet has been popularised by such as the Orlandos, but the second quartet will be unfamiliar. Grieg wrote two movements and then found it impossible to finish. It was difficult, perhaps, to reconcile the extremes of mood in a wholly satisfying conclusion. No 2 has been completed from sketches by Levon Chilingirian; Rontgen and, indeed, Chilingirian's amanuenses, the Wyatts (friends of the Editor) are also credited. No-one is likely to complain about the completion, which is thoroughly idiomatic.


MP's editor has raised issues about the quality of the works. * True, they are characterised by sprawling outer movements, and melodious but essentially undeveloped inner ones. The textures are often thick and ungrateful. (Chilingirian was also very cautious with the finale of No 2, and made it very short, admitting Grieg is likely to have been more amibitous.) However, the sleeve notes tell us that no less a judge than Liszt admired No.1. This is consistent; the grand effects and leit-motivs of the Quartet have affinities with Liszt's own compositional tendencies.


I could suggest Dvorak's much larger quartet oeuvre as a helpful comparison. Only the ‘American' quartet has made it into the canon, because of its combination of tunefulness and structural strength, yet there is much fine writing in all the others, making opinion on the pieces extremely divided. Dvorak was a sure-fire success as a writer of scherzo movements, miniatures and dances, not always so comfortable as a sinfonist. Grieg is the same; it is kindest to think of these works as ‘Lyric Pieces Plus.'


Whether or not the quartet does truly represent a transition from late Beethoven to Debussy is, however, a moot point. Certainly, Grieg's piano and violin sonatas have similarly divided opinion.


Reissued at mid-price, but with the benefit of excellent 1998 recording – don't hesitate.


Ying Chang


* That was in reaction to a recent performance by the Kreutzer Quartet, introduced by Peter Sheppard Skærved by quoting, and ridiculing, Thomas Dunhill's derogation of it…

I disliked it in the over-the-top performance which followed, and surprised myself by enjoying Dunhill's violin sonata next morning ! PGW