Hungarian Romantic composer Mihály Mosonyi [1815–1870] wrote seven string quartets. I have selected No. 5 for discussion.
The work opens in a stunning manner, with the first violin expressing a majestic melody, based around an ascending motif. With the ensemble entering after the first phrase, the music has a powerful presence. The motif is developed for some time, all the while support is provided by the ensemble. The character is somewhat akin to the violin concertos of Vivaldi, with tremendous thrust. A relief comes with a slow, harmonised passage, where a high violin meanders over a warm harmonic background. Now the composer goes for the middle ground, with harmonised ascending lines developed over a busy accompaniment – this music has a marvellously fresh nature as the violins negotiate variations on a fine melody.
A return to the opening is most welcome, with a varied accompaniment providing much interest. A passage of interweaving solo lines features a probing cello before the violin returns to take the music to great heights – there are some wonderful harmonised passages here, alternating with a period of call and response before a final flourish.
The next movement begins as an adagio, with a solo cello marking out one iteration of a harmonic progression in pizzicato mode. This approach is most unusual, I don’t believe I have encountered it before. The ensemble immediately takes on the previously mentioned progression with a great depth of feeling. Surprisingly, the cello repeats its solo opening and the ensemble responds. Now the progression is harmonised in a different manner with a pizzicato viola underpinning a gentle passage evoking the feeling of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, although it is in a triple meter. This movement contains much pizzicato, with gentle melodies prevailing until a flurry of notes leads to a delightful section. Melodic lines from all instruments overlap to great effect. Now the tempo is halved, with a striking, and strangely calming section of a fugal nature. A resonant solo cello line brings a resumption of the busy tempo, again in a triple meter. The end is a charming, short section for solo cello, which again I find quite unusual.
Sweeping violins commence the third movement, with frequent cello interjections adding to the brisk feeling. Now the cello engages with the violins, filling in the gaps between their phrases. A more subdued section, with a distinctive minor tonality, acts as a relief. A return to vigour and sweeping violins, interspersed with subdued harmonised passages delivers up a rhythmic finish.
The final movement is slow, and possibly the most conservative heard thus far. A measured opening develops into a section of great charm as melodies overlap. A virtuosic violin line is the focus now, and it constantly interrupts the otherwise placid moments. The cello part is striking here, with a strong attack on the arco phrases. There is an underlying feeling of sadness, as the violin leads the ensemble through some dark passages, albeit in a Romantic style. A false ending has the cello very busy, while the violins move to a calm conclusion.
The review CD, titled Mosonyi: 3 String Quartets on the Hungaroton label and performed by the Festetics Quartet, also contains String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2. It is available on Amazon UK and US.
Listenability: Charming Romantic work.