LUDWIG THUILLE – Fine Romantic Quartets

Italian-born Romantic composer Ludwig Wilhelm Andreas Maria Thuille [1861–1907] moved to Austria at age eleven, following the death of both of his parents, where he was raised by an uncle – he is generally considered to be an Austrian composer and, wrote two string quartets, both before he was twenty. There is also a recently discovered one-movement work for string quartet, Quartette-Satz, which I intend to discuss, along with String Quartet No. 2.

The Second Quartet, in three movements, opens in an allegro tempo, with a strong, pleasing sound, slightly reminiscent of Felix Mendelssohn. A delicate chordal feeling gives way to a sumptuous harmonised, melodic phase. Now a rhythm is introduced and the composer spins melodies that look forward, with a sparse accompaniment. More rhythmic movement unfolds and the first violin contributes some moving lines. The tempo becomes more forceful and harmonised melodic lines make an appearance, together with some rhythmic punctuation, which leads into another strong melodic passage. This is wonderful joyous music, strictly of its time. Accompanied by a sensitive ensemble, fine, gentle violin melodies are expressed and beautifully harmonised. The cello is prominent for a time, but soon returns to a supporting role, although its influence can readily be heard. The violins continue to dominate albeit at a low intensity – there is a slight increase in volume, followed by a soft passage which leads straight into a dynamic flourish to end.

The next movement evokes a phrase from one of Beethoven’s late quartets before continuing the emotional mood of the previous movement. A solo violin section leads to a repeat of the opening passage, which is the subject for a set of melodic variations. A beautiful moment unfolds, with the violins engaging in a harmonised duet – further variations on the opening motif are heard and developed for some time. Rhythmic variation adds to the interest, before there is another flourish to conclude.

The final movement, marked andante, is introduced by slow chordal passages, which gradually drift into a minor tonality. Lush melodic phrases create a great feeling of calm, as the violins meander expressively through an ever-changing harmony. Continually seeking out new melodies, this is a most attractive passage. A pause leads to a slight diminishing of the already slow tempo, which seems to bring a new charm to the music. The violins are splendid here, with gentle but highly expressive melodies – definitely music to be savoured, as the violins bring you back to earth with a subdued ending.

The one-movement Quartette-Satz again evokes Mendelssohn, specifically, the opening of his Octet for Strings, although without the extreme propulsion that is a feature of this chamber work classic. All of this is soon left far behind, as many changes in tempo introduce new melodies. Now we have a return to variations on the opening, with its characteristic forward thrust. This feeling is carried forward into the next passage, before a drop in intensity introduces some marvellous melodies. The return of a tempo unleashes wonderful swooping violin lines, in a fascinating violin duet. Once again the tempo rises, it is almost rhapsodic with the violins very strong, amid several changes in harmony. A recapitulation of the opening has a strength that is palpable. Now the composer has the violins gently unwind for a period, only to gather in strength for a powerful, orchestral-like conclusion.

The review CD, Ludwig Thuille: The String Quartets, performed by the Allegri Quartet, is available on Amazon US and as a download from Amazon UK. There is also an impressive version by the Signum Quartet, however this does not contain the one-movement Quartette-Satz and therefore is considerably shorter.

Both performances are available on Spotify and YouTube – the Allegri version is on earsense.

Listenability: Fine, uplifting Romantic quartet works.


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