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Saint-Saëns: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

Album Summary

>Saint-Saëns, Camille : Quartet for Strings no 1 in E minor, Op. 112
>Saint-Saëns, Camille : Quartet for Strings no 2 in G major, Op. 153

Notes & Reviews:

"Deserving more frequent performances than they receive, Saint-Saëns's two string quartets find persuasive champions in the Fine Arts Quartet...the influences are refracted through Saint-Saëns's own lyrical and harmonic prism, and each work is as carefully crafted as it is extremely pleasurable to hear." -The Telegraph

The Fine Arts Quartet's albums of Mendelssohn's String Quartets and Glazunov's chamber music were named "Recordings of the Year" by MusicWeb International, and their recording of Schumann's string quartets was hailed by American Record Guide as "one of the very finest chamber music recordings of the year." On this disc the acclaimed ensemble performs Camille Saint-Saens' two magnificent string quartets. "Saint-Saens has been unfairly tarnished as being a lightweight composer," notes first violinist Ralph Evans. "Listening to these serious, intellectual, brilliantly crafted yet delightful works will change minds in a hurry."

"The Fine Arts Quartet is equal to all Saint-Saëns’ demands for swift changes of mood and technical virtuosity. I have little to say about the quality of their playing beyond observing that to my ears they are impeccable, producing singing tone and unfailing homogeneity; I could not imagine finer advocacy of these neglected quartets. They are not easy listening but repeated encounters will, I am sure, pay dividends to the dedicated chamber music enthusiast." -MusicWeb-International

Comparing the two, the Fine Arts Quartet emerges as the more technically secure and poised, especially in the extremely taxing E-Minor Quartet, and the sound of the ensemble as it's captured by Naxos is full and vibrant. Saint-Saëns's string quartets are not going to alter opinions of the composer for good or for ill. But I will admit, they're kind of fun to listen to, especially the wild First Quartet, and for now at least, I personally know of no other ensemble that plays them better than the Fine Arts Quartet.

MusicWeb International
Finally it seems appropriate to note that Wolfgang Laufer, the superb cellist who was a member of the Fine Arts Quartet since 1979, died on 8 June this year, soon after the release of this disc and the recording of two more Naxos albums (Schumann and Kreisler). He was one of three Fine Arts players - along with the two violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico - who had been in the quartet together for over thirty years. His, then, will be a hard chair to replace. Let us hope that the Fine Arts Quartet's unmistakable sound will live on.

The WholeNote
Naxos has issued a fascinating CD of Saint-Sadns String Quartets (8.572454) played by the Fine Arts Quartet. Saint-Sadns was born ten years before the premiere of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and died eight years after the premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, but such radical change was never reflected in his music. The quartets are both late works - the E minor Op.112 from 1899 and the G major Op.153 from 1918 - but it's hard to tell from their decidedly 19th century musical style. It's quite astonishing, for instance, to think that the Op.153 was written by a French composer during the last year of the Great War, and ten years after Schoenberg had first abandoned tonality; in places it's almost Beethovenian. Fine Arts violinist Ralph Evans correctly describes the quartets as "serious, intellectual, brilliantly crafted yet delightful works," but it's difficult to identify a personal voice in them; they tend to remind you more of other composers than of Saint-Sadns himself. It's also easy to see why his reputation in France had faded by the time of his death - he simply belonged to a different era.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: Wittem Monastery Library, The Netherlands (10/26/2009-10/28/2009).


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Works Details

>Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921) : Quartet for Strings no 1 in E minor, Op. 112
  • Notes: Wittem Monastery Library, The Netherlands (10/26/2009-10/28/2009)
  • Running Time: 33 min. 17 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Written: 1899

>Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 - 1921) : Quartet for Strings no 2 in G major, Op. 153
  • Notes: Wittem Monastery Library, The Netherlands (10/26/2009-10/28/2009)
  • Running Time: 28 min. 5 sec.
  • Period Time: Post Romantic
  • Written: 1918