Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wilhelm Stenhammar - 6 String Quartets

Although writting six beautiful string quartets, Wilhelm Stenhammer (1871-1927) the Swedish Romantic composer, is very less known for this works. They are some of the best Romantic string quartets cycle running on a realm of late Romantic, yet haven't gone wild with the Modern Schoenbergism movement.

Here some notes on the quartets by Edition Silvertrust:

String Quartet No.1 in C was composed in 1894. The opening theme to the first movement, Allegro, is dominated by its rhythm. The second subject, though also syncopated, is more lyrical. The poignant second movement, Mesto, is a dirge. Stenhammar instructs the performers to play it very simply, but with deep feeling. Though classical in its restraint, eschewing romantic emotionalism, nonetheless there is a Beethovian declamatory mood about it. An intermezzo, Molto tranquillo e commodo, follows. The playful melodies give the feel of an allegretto with an aura of calmness. The impassioned finale, Allegro energico, is said to have been based upon a Nordic folk tune, yet surprisingly, it sounds rather Spanish.

String Quartet No.2 in c minor, dating 1892, this is the beginning of Stenhammer true original quartet. Influence by Beethoven. Opening movement Allegro moderato, begins mysteriously but quickly builds into a powerful and deeply troubled mood with an implacable "stamping" rhythm as a kind of inexorable background. Next we hear an elegaic and reflective Andante, quasi adagio. In the restless scherzo, Allegro vivace, Stenhammar quotes the main theme from the scherzo of Beethoven's Op.95 quartet. His treatment is at once clever, highly imaginative and very effective. The finale, Allegro energico e serioso, once again, drama and pathos return in the form of harsh and short "stamping" rhythms which are juxtaposed against a wild moto perpetuo theme.

 String Quartet No.3 in F, Its lovely, tranquil opening movement, Quasi andante, is followed by a breathtaking Presto agitato, It begins full of fire but there are somber interludes of  doubt, of "night thoughts". The Presto is linked to a powerfully brilliant and beautiful fugue.  Next is a Lento sostenuto, which are a set of highly lyrical and emotional variations. The finale, Presto molto agitato, is a kind of fantasia and fugue.  In it we hear haunting echoes of what has come before. This is a masterpiece by any standard which belongs in the concert repertoire.

String Quartet No.4 in a minor, Dedicated to Jean Sibelius, this is a quartet utilitize Nordic folksong. The superb finale, Aria variata, is exactly what the title indicates. A set of variations on an opening song. The theme is taken from the Swedish folksong, And the knight he spake with young Hillevi. There are ten variations which follow and they are as good or better than any other set ever written for string quartet. This is why Bo Wallner considered the Fourth such a mighty work.

String Quartet No.5 in C. Stenhammare lighter his continuating works and write quartet no.5 in the light of Viennesse and Haydnesque style. Nickname "Serenade" the second movement base on Swedish folksong again.

String Quartet No.6 in d minor, this is a dark melody, funeral feeling. It is resembles something of Beethoven Symphony 9 grandieur. Yet another great closing piece for this six excellent string quartet cycle.

They are at least two major recording for this cycle as follows:

Wilhelm Stenhammar String Quartet 3,4,5,6
CPO label
Oslo String Quartet
buy here

Wilhelm Stenhammar String Quartet - Complete
Caprice label
Copenhagen String Quartet
Gothland String Quartet
Fresk String Quartet
buy here

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