Swiss early Romantic composer Friedrich Theodor Fröhlich [1803–1836] wrote four string quartets. Strangely, he is the second composer discussed recently who was born on my birthday, February 20th. I haven’t been able to establish a chronology for the works so I shall refer to it as String Quartet in G Minor, which is in four movements and dates from 1826.
The first, andante movement opens in a stately manner, coloured significantly by its minor tonality. The sound is rich with a slow melody and classic Romantic harmony. As the first violin expresses its slightly lamenting melody the ensemble bathes it in a sensitive accompaniment. A change ensues and the violin becomes folk-like, at tempo, although the stately feeling is maintained. Gradually the violin is more dynamic and expressive as it spreads its wings. We now have a return to the opening character and the harmony is very strong here, it overshadows the melody with a wonderful feeling of sensitivity. Charming, attractive harmonies are developed and great passion is explored. A new passage brings the first violin back into focus and the intensity rises as the phrasing becomes more complex for a time. Eventually, the peaceful sound of the opening is heard, but it does not last as the violin again displays great expression and asserts itself within the music. This wonderful passage is further developed, leading to a shrill note from the violin, which pauses for a moment, allowing the ensemble to go it alone until the first violin returns for a soft ending.
The next movement is a brief scherzo, variously a vigorous, light, or playful mood. Prancing violins express at tempo, before moving into a strong virtuosic passage. The first violinist is all over the fingerboard, with delightfully skittish melodies, leading to a final flourish.
Now follows a largo movement, again stately and delightfully Romantic in style, although somewhat reminiscent of Mozart and Haydn. The ensemble embark on a rhythmic passage, with flowing melodic lines, to a very sympathetic accompaniment. The cello here is particularly fine. The music works through several different moods, mostly determined by the leading violin. One particular section has the ensemble projecting a delicate rhythm, which serves as a carpet for the first violin. Wonderful harmonies are in abundance as the music gently drifts towards a conclusion.
The allegro finale is introduced by a cello motif, constantly recurring and always answered by the violins. Now the violins take the lead and develop a slightly sombre section before being set free to express a positive conversation with the ensemble. Long violin phrases give way to shorter motifs that are answered by the cello. For me, there is a sense of the music attempting to break out of its Romantic nature, but this never happens – the composer is always in control. A walking cello underpins an alluring violin duet, which concludes the work.
While I am not naturally drawn emotionally to the Romantic style, I always enjoy it when I review a quartet from this era as it seems to reveal the deep traditions within the string quartet repertoire. This is very fine music.
The review CD, titled Fröhlich: String Quartets by The Beethoven Quartet, contains three quartets on one disc and is available on Amazon US and UK. There is also a 2-CD set by the Rasumowsky Quartett, Fröhlich: Complete String Quartets, which has all four works.
Listenability: Charming, early Romantic works.