Sunday, February 12, 2017

Engelbert Humperdinck - String Quartets; Piano Quintets (Diogenes Quartett)


Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck
  1. String Quartet in C major, EHWV 164: 1. Allegro moderato
  2. String Quartet in C major, EHWV 164: 2. Gemächlich
  3. String Quartet in C major, EHWV 164: 3. Lebhaft
  4. Piano Quintet in G major, EHWV 37: 1. Allegro moderato
  5. Piano Quintet in G major, EHWV 37: 2. Adagio
  6. Piano Quintet in G major, EHWV 37: 3. Rondo scherzando
  7. Menuet in E flat major for piano & string quartet, EHWV 18
  8. String Quartet Movement in E minor, EHWV 22
  9. String Quartet Movement in C minor, Op. 38, EHWV 38
  10. Notturno in G major for violin & string quartet, EHWV 63

Diogenes Quartett
Stefan Kirpal, violin
Gundula Kirpal, violin
Stephanie Krauß, viola
Stephen Ristau, cello
Andreas Kirpal, piano (4-7)
Lydia Dubrovskaya, violin (10)

Date: 2012
Label: CPO



There are a number of composers who are best known almost exclusively for writing one particular work from a substantial compositional output. The principal names that spring to mind are Gustav Holst forThe Planets; Max Bruch for hisFirst Violin Concertoand Carl Orff forCarmina Burana. Falling into this category is the German late-Romantic composer Engelbert Humperdinck who is really only known for his much loved operaHänsel und Gretelcomposed in 1891/92. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale the composer described his score as aMärchenoper(Fairytale opera- based on Brothers Grimm). The richly scored opera has become inextricably associated with children and families, and is traditionally performed at Christmas time.

Humperdinck wrote a considerable number of works in several genres including a number of stage works but none have come anywhere close to attaining the popularity ofHänsel und Gretel. I am told that theKönigskinder(The King’s Children) is sometimes staged but I have never come across it. Contained on this CPO release are six chamber scores the majority of which were composed in the 1870s and only published in recent years with the exception being theString quartet in C majorfrom 1919/20.

The earliest work on the release is the single movementMenuet in E flat major for Piano QuintetmarkedAllegrocomposed in 1872 as an alternative for a Christmas programme. Bearing a dedication to Johannes Degen, a judge and amateur violinist, the substantialString Quartet Movement in E minorwas written in 1873. With regard to completing the score Humperdinck got as far as sketching out another two movements. Cast in three movements, thePiano Quintet in G majorwas completed in 1875. It seems that it was played by Johannes Degen music group in which Humperdinck would sometimes stand in as the pianist. The score of the centralAdagiobears an inscription to the memory of Humperdinck’s sister Ernestine who died aged only seventeen. In the concludingAllegroHumperdinck blends aScherzowith aRondo. TheString Quartet Movement in C minortakes around 7 minutes. Humperdinck won the Frankfurt Mozart prize with the C minor score. TheNotturno for Violin and String Quartet in G majoris markedAndante tranquillo.After its completion in October 1879 Humperdinck before the ink was almost dry prepared an alternative arrangement of the score for violin and piano doing away the quartet. Cast in three movements theString Quartet in C majorwas written some thirty years afterHänsel und Greteland is Humperdinck’s final chamber score. Humperdinck explained that the centralGemächlich(Leisurely) is a contrasting combination of a slow movement andScherzo.

Irrespective of the tempi indications Humperdinck’s undemanding writing tends to inhabit a similar mood. The prevailing character of the slow movements is one of agreeable geniality: benign, highly attractive melodically with gloriously yearning themes. The outer movements, although occasionally squally and moderately windswept, offer more of the same but with a quicker speed. There’s no whiff of GermanSturm und Drangor late-Romantic Wagnerian or Straussian excess in any of Humperdinck’s chamber scores. Owing to the lack of stylistic, melodic and dynamic contrast one can understand why these scores have remained neglected for so long. Out of the six Humperdinck works theString Quartet(1919/20) with its catchy central movementGemächlichis certainly agreeable as is theNotturno for violin and string quartetbut it is thePiano Quintetthat I consider to be the finest. Without plumbing great emotional depths I also greatly enjoyed the centralAdagioof thePiano Quintetfor its tender yearning quality; serving as a fine tribute to Humperdinck’s deceased sister Ernestine.

The Diogenes Quartet is a Munich based ensemble and was founded in 1996. The Diogenes number the Amadeus and La Salle quartets amongst their teachers. I couldn’t fault the beautiful playing of the Diogenes who adopts a straightforward unadorned style that feels wholly convincing. Glorious string tone and impeccable ensemble are trademarks of this first-rate quartet. For thePiano quintet in G majorand theMenuet for piano quintetthe Diogenes are augmented by pianist Andreas Kirpal who makes a terrific contribution sharing this music with tightly matched teamwork. TheNotturno for violin and string quartet in G majoris a real find with the Diogenes joined by Lydia Dubrovskaya who takes the solo violin part. With assurance and refined musicianship Dubrovskaya plays this nocturne quite beautifully. I can easily imagine this score becoming quite a hit on a Classic FM Relaxing Classics programme.

The recording was made at the August Everding Saal, Grünwald on the outskirts of Munich and the sound quality is spectacular. It’s vividly clear and superbly balanced too which is something that I rarely encounter where piano and string quartets are concerned.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International


Engelbert Humperdinck (1 September 1854 – 27 September 1921) was a German composer, best known for his opera Hänsel und Gretel. He studied with Ferdinand Hiller and Isidor Seiss at the Cologne Conservatory, then with Franz Lachner and later with Josef Rheinberger in Munich. Humperdinck assisted Wagner in the production of Parsifal and also served as music tutor to Wagner's son, Siegfried. Although recognized as a disciple of Wagner, Humperdinck was the first composer to use Sprechgesang - a vocal technique halfway between singing and speaking - in his melodrama Die Königskinder (1897).


Diogenes Quartett, founded in 1998, is a internationally renowned string quartet based in Munich. Its style shows the influence of the collaboration with pedagogues and ensembles, as the Amadeus Quartet and the La Salle Quartet. Since its establishment the Diogenes Quartet has acquired a large share of the string quartet repertoire. In recent years, the quartet has recorded all string quartets by Franz Schubert and Max Bruch. Its current members included: Stefan Kirpal & Gundula Kirpal, violin; Alba González i Becerra, viola; Stephen Ristau, cello.


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  3. Hello my F(riend,
    I only know you since one week..
    But you are the best blog in music Romantic about thr World, so a Global Thank :)

  4. FYI - Humperdinck booklets can be downloaded from the Chandos site.

  5. Thank you very much. Great music!