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Wellesz String Quartets

Artis Quartet of Vienna

Nimbus NI 5821

A welcome release of chamber music by Egon Wellesz (1885-1974), a Viennese refugee composer who spent most of his life as an academic in Oxford, continuing to compose the while, but with few performances. He had studied with Schönberg, but remained on the sidelines and never became a devotee in the inner circle.

Quartet No 3 (1918) took cues from baroque models "? to shut out contemporary cares" (Calum MacDonald). With a clear D minor as its centre, it finishes with 'a kind of contrapuntal gigue'; all in all an impressive work which has a distinct voice (although the commentary draws attention to Debussy/Ravel likenesses). Wellesz was never one to push himself, his No 3 was 'put aside' and never got performed until 1977.

The other two here are well written exercises in 2nd Viennese School mode, No 4 anticpating the manner of Berg in his Lyric Suite. No 6 was composed in Oxford, 1947, lighter and with Schubertian 'grazioso' in its language.

Whilst those two are well written and enjoyable to hear, I found the earlier one the greater discovery; it would make for a welcome reception in any string quartet's recital programme.

Recommended to collectors who are explorers of the early/mid 20th century...

Peter Grahame Woolf