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GRIEG: String Quartets 1 & 2 – Meccore String Quartet – MDG 

GRIEG: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27; String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, EG 117; Fugue in f minor, EG 114 – Meccore String Quartet – MDG Multichannel CD 9031998-6, 57:09 (4/21/17) [Distr. by eOne] *****:

The Meccore Quartet presents Grieg the composer of powerful string quartets, a long way from his “miniature” style.

The medium of the string quartet did not come easily to Edvard Grieg, and he completed a few before leaving one mature work of 1877-78, of which he wrote that it “aims at vigor, breadth, flight of imagination, and above all, fullness of tone for the instruments.  It is in G Minor and not meant as meat for small minds!” This vivacious reading by the Meccore Quartet – Jaroslaw Nadrzycki and Wojciech Koprowski, violin; Michal Bryla, viola; and Karol Marianowski, cello – from October and December 2016 literally bristles with dramatic energy, especially since Grieg described the work as a “piece of my life story. . .into which I have poured my finest ideas and most heartfelt feelings.”

The passionately intricate first movement Un poco andante – Allegro molto ed agitato belies its sonata-form structure through its reliance on a song, Spillemaend (“The Minstrel”), Op. 25, No. 1 (1876), whose lyrics from Ibsen invoke an ondine or water-sprite whose power has come to haunt the narrator, his having sacrificed personal happiness for the gift of song. The motto theme G-F-D assumes various permutations throughout the course of the entire work. By adding a sharp to the F, the music assumes an acerbic tone that manages to infiltrate the second movement Romanze. The quartet members indulge in double notes constantly, enriching the texture with a symphonic intensity. When the texture thins, it resembles the folk-sound we know from Peer Gynt, in which the Hardanger fiddle sonority invokes Norwegian folk music.

The Romanze itself alternates between a sweet cantabile and a more dramatic discourse; the middle section has a waltz sensibility. But in its agitato moments, the grueling torment of the first movement reappears.  The trigger motif makes itself felt no less in the Intermezzo movement, here fortissimo, abetted by metrical shifts and conflict before yielding to the Trio’s folk dance. The slashing tone of the attacks conveys a fierce energy and the presence of impulsive, demonic emotions.  The spirit of Beethoven may be an antecedent, as much as this quartet provides a model for the later Claude Debussy quartet in the same key. The four-voice canon that opens the Finale: Lento – Presto ed saltarello utilizes the minstrel tune, which in its spirited, “Italian” character manages to overcome despair and find an apotheosis in G Major.  Throughout the performance, we have been alerted to the striking power of the two lower strings, Bryla’s viola and Marianowski’s fervent cello playing.

Much to his personal chagrin, Grieg never could complete his “light and happy sister” Quartet in F Major that he had intended in the 1890s to sit next to his Op. 27.  Grieg’s wife Nina assigned the incomplete score to Julius Roentgen, who first published two movements in 1908, and then he completed the third and fourth movements, which critics find unsuited to the Grieg style. So the Mccore Quartet provides us the two completed movements, the Sostenuto – Allegro vivace e grazioso and the Allegro scherzando – the first movement theme set in a persuasive 6/8 meter that moves upward two octaves via dotted rhythms and quartet notes and then descends in sequential patterns. The second movement reveals Grieg’s ambiguous emotional character, the dance’s top line’s having a d minor counter-theme that strews clouds on the sunny horizon. The Trio, however, invokes the inverted pedal on the fifth degree, a sign of the drone element in folk music.  Once more, the convergence of melodic wizardry and instrumental finesse reveals a composer perfectly confident in large forms, and not the “mere” miniaturist that the Lyric Pieces suggest.

The Meccore players conclude with a student work of Grieg, his 1861 Fugue in f minor, written in Leipzig.  The somewhat gruff germ theme eventually assumes more than academic treatment, having become a character piece in its own right, worthy of the likes of Robert Schumann. The separation of its high and low tessitura shows off the ensemble, as well as the composer’s, willingness to experiment within a rigorous musical procedure. “The child is father to the man.”

The brilliant recorded sound for this fine disc comes to us by way of Tonmeiseter Friedrich Wilhelm Roedding. A class act, this disc.

—Gary Lemco

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