FERRUCCIO BUSONI – String Quartet No. 2

Italian composer Busoni [1866-1924] wrote two string quartets. He was renowned for his piano transcriptions of Bach works, many of which I own. They are masterly. I am going to discuss his String Quartet No. 2, which is in four movements.

The work opens with a cello-led melody, in a bright tempo. Soon, the violins take over and the music has a very Classical sound, with a series of violin flourishes leading to a change in mood. The tempo slows and the cello makes several positive statements, before the violins return. There are many tempo changes thus far but the feeling finally settles on a violin duet, over a positive background. Now the violin soars and leads the passage into a brisk tempo again. After a time the dynamics recede and there are quiet phrases from the violins. This is a most pleasant section; one violin flies while the other provides support. The dynamics now have an intensity about them. A change into a minor key leads to a busy violin duet which slowly subsides; the energy returns and the violins are playful. Then follows another measured feeling, but only for a time as the cello pushes the violins into a strong tempo. The end is very gentle, until a final flourish.

The next movement, marked andante, is of a sparse minor key nature. The violins become busy and the cello has several statements to make, all of which are answered by the violins. The mood now becomes more optimistic and the cello and violin call and response returns. The intensity is limited and there are a lot of solo cello lines. We are back to a slightly lamenting feeling now, even with one busy violin. A lilting violin concludes.

The third movement, marked vivace, is quite unusual rhythmically; it’s slightly stilted and the ensemble doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A pause initiates a new feeling as minor chords accompany a meandering violin. It wanders freely against a subtle background. Suddenly we have movement as a violin lays down a positive motif. The other violin is a bit more demonstrative now and the energy level increases leading to a final chord.

The finale begins in a sombre manner with the violins in their lowest registers. The cello takes over and leads the music into a spirited section, leaving the minor key far behind. It does eventually return and the tempo decreases with the change. The first violin develops a phrase, then repeats it in another key. This leads to another minor chord change and the violins become tense, albeit still very busy. There are various tempo changes and the violins rise in intensity which is sustained to the end of the work.

Several versions of the two quartets exist on CD. My review copy was by the Pellegrini Quartet on the CPO label. This disc is on Spotify and many quartet movements are on YouTube. There also several versions of both quartets on earsense.

Listenability: An engaging Late Romantic work.


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