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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Hugo Wolf - Music for String Quartet (Quartetto Prometeo)


Composer: Hugo Wolf
  1. String Quartet in D minor: I. Grave - Leidenschaftlich bewegt
  2. String Quartet in D minor: II. Scherzo. Resolut
  3. String Quartet in D minor: III. Langsam
  4. String Quartet in D minor: IV. Serh lebhaft
  5. Intermezzo in E flat major
  6. Italianische Serenade in G major

Quartetto Prometeo
Giulio Rovighi, violin
Aldo Campagnari, violin
Massimo Piva, viola
Francesco Dillon, cello

Date: 2012
Label: Brilliant Classics



'Complete music for string quartet' in Hugo Wolf's case means a single String Quartet, his celebrated Italian Serenade and a stand-alone Intermezzo. More's the pity, because Wolf's writing is modern, serious-minded and emotionally and intellectually gripping, as these articulate, demonstrative readings by the Italian Prometeo ('Prometheus') Quartet reveal.

The sprightly, witty Italian'Serenade in G, better known in its string orchestra arrangement, has been recorded, or at least performed, by almost every quartet worth its salt. Like his Quartet, Wolf's Intermezzo in E flat, fruit of an idyllic summer holiday spent studying Mörike, is heard much less often, and that is rather curious, because it is a delightfully sunshiny precursor to the Serenade, which would follow a year later.

Wolf's massive String Quartet actually predates both shorter major-key works, despite the wiser head's lugubriousness suggested by its D minor tonality. It is not so much melancholy as emotional intensity that permeates the Quartet, in which Wolf reveals both a reverence for Beethoven and Schubert - at times the work gives a whiff of the latter's 'Death and the Maiden' - and his own personal Sturm und Drang agitations: Wolf began this work around the time he contracted the syphilis that would eventually kill him in such an appalling fashion. Moreover, Fate contrived to have the premiere take place nearly 20 years after he finished it, just a couple of weeks before he died.

The epic nature of this work is doubtless the chief reason for its relative rarity of performance, rather than any lack of musical maturity that might be thought likely to come from the pen of a haughty, still teenage composer - even if the work has always had its fair share of critical disapprobation. In fact the Quartet has its own startlingly original soundworld and structure, if indeed 'structure' is the right word. It ranges dramatically and often chromatically from despair to hope, from darkness to sunshine, and even if its form does indeed suggest youthful disregard of time-honoured balance, the deeply imaginative music nonetheless has a natural flow of ideas that never cease to surprise, stimulate or educate.

The Prometeo Quartet, though pictured on the front cover having apparently missed their train, never even begin to lose their way here in an illuminating interpretation of the String Quartet that is both athletic and elegant, luxuriating in the work's warmth but also plunging fearlessly into its icy depths. This is their first disc for Brilliant; last year their recording of Schumann's three Quartets op.41 was published in the September edition of the Italian music magazine 'Amadeus'.

Sound quality is very good. The first violin is quite a noisy breather, but thankfully he makes the air go a long way. The Italian notes, by Roberta Milanaccio, are a paragon of conciseness, clarity and relevance, with a translation into English also of the highest quality. The CD is fairly short, but Brilliant and the Prometeo Quartet can blame Wolf for that - in all other regards, this is a considerable bargain.

-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International


Hugo Wolf (13 March 1860 – 22 February 1903) was an Austrian composer of Slovene origin, particularly noted for his art songs, or Lieder. He wrote hundreds of lieder and brought to this form a concentrated expressive intensity which was unique in late Romantic music, somewhat related to that of the Second Viennese School in concision but diverging greatly in technique. His most famous instrumental piece is the Italian Serenade (1887), originally for string quartet and later orchestrated. The symphonic poem Penthesilea is written in 1883-1885 after the advice of Franz Liszt.


The Quartetto Prometeo was the winner of the 50th Prague Spring International Music Competition in May 1998, and was awarded the Special Bärenreiter prize for best performance of Mozart’s Quartet K 590 according with the original score, the City of Prague award as best quartet and the Pro Harmonia Mundi prize. It also won second prize at the Concours International de Quatuors of that year in Bordeaux and, in 2000, the Special Bärenreiter Prize at the ARD Munich Competition. The quartet has recorded for Amadeus, Kairos, Brilliant Classics, ECM, LimenMusic and Sony Classical.


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