At least during his lifetime, Franz Krommer (1759-1831) found more success among his contemporaries as a composer of string quartets than did Beethoven. While his rival's quartets had limited appeal to the upper class dilettantes that formed the majority of music consumers, Krommer's were accessible both to them, as well as to the professional musicians who found Beethoven's work more rewarding and challenging. A prolific composer with close to 100 string quartets, he was well known all over Europe.
Arriving in Vienna in 1795 from Moravia, Krommer bridged the era between Haydn, who was writing his last quartets, and Beethoven, who would soon compose his earliest ones. The 3 string quartets on this recording span most of the thirty years he wrote. The earliest one concludes the recording while the other two are world premieres.
The opening chords of Opus 74, #4 in D Minor recede to gentle, almost hushed tones that allow the virtuosity of the lead violin to shine. Sharp dynamic shifts punctuate the 1st movement `Allegro moderato'. A countermelody in the viola grounds the work as the top voice explores the upper registers of the `E' string, only to swoop back down to join the others for the powerful unison sections.
Although all four parts take turns leading the quartet in the ensuing `Adagio', it features an extended exchange between the 1st violin and the cello. The whispering conclusion sets up the abrupt jolt that marks the beginning of the `Minuetto' that follows. A distinctive descending figure skittering down the scale characterizes this 3rd movement. Venturing far afield from the initial key of D Minor, the concluding `Allegretto' undergoes numerous harmonic shifts before finally ending in D Major. The music seems to pass in and out the sunlight as the key changes fly by.
Published in 1821, the Opus 103, #3 is composed in A Minor. The pianissimo of the first movement `Allegro moderato' sets up the forte of the unison chords, creating a strong dynamic contrast. The gentle opening of the ensuing `Andante con Scherzo' continues in muted tones, supported by the insistence of the cello, using what almost amounts to a walking bass line. Just before the conclusion, the lead violin takes a brief, unaccompanied solo, flashing a truly virtuosic display. This unexpected turn reflects the increasing technical ability of the soloists during the early Romantic era.
Written in F sometime after 1800, the Opus 19, #2 begins the 1st movement pairing the playful opening theme with dancing triplets to form an appealing texture as each instrument takes a turn leading the quartet. Rapid dynamic changes create another contrast in this engaging `Allegro moderato'. Offering more interplay among the four voices, this earlier quartet does not demand as much advanced technique from the 1st violin as do the later works.
A leisurely pace allows the conversational exchange to continue in the charming `Adagio' that follows. The lilting `Minuetto' is sweet but brief, setting up the brisk finale. Both violin parts are treated as equals in the concluding `Allegro', shifting tempos as rapidly as they exchange melodic lines.
Members of the Marcolini Quartet acquit themselves well, especially the lead violinist, Jorg Buschhaus. The adroit passagework and the spacious quality of the recording permit the music to shine, revealing why Krommer was so popular in his time. His compositions deserve more attention today.