VINCENZO MANFREDINI – String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3

Italian Classical composer Vincenzo Manfredini [1737-1799] wrote six string quartets. Not quite after 1800, but close enough. They are in an early Classical form and predate the influence of Haydn, consisting of only three movements, and only one goes above four minutes in length. I am going to discuss String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3.

The First Quartet is basically a divertimento, in that the first violin contributes the melodies, while the other three members all play together with the same phrasing, only differing in their note selection, leading to a harmonic accompaniment. There are no individual passages for the second violin, viola or cello. It commences in a Baroque manner, very stately. The violin crafts a fine melodic statement, however it is quite conservative. There are some interesting rhythmic passages from the ensemble, which feeds off the first violin. The end is a solo violin phrase. This is very fine, attractive, almost sweet music.

The next movement, marked largo, is not your traditional largo; it’s quite a bit faster. The divertimento concept continues, with the violin playing all of the melodies. Again, this has a stately feeling, probably due to its tempo. The first violin constructs many fine melodies, albeit conservative, and the ensemble creates a marvellous harmonic canvas. A change to the minor tonality, leads to a new, more subtle mood, with the first violin creating some splendid lines, given its changed circumstances. A series of decelerating violin phrases leads to a conclusion.

The final, very short movement is energised, and taken at quite a tempo. The ensemble follows the first violin as it negotiates some propulsive melodies. There is a sense of brilliance here. Now a slight pause resumes the process, with the ensemble continuing to chase the violin. The ending is very fine.

The Third Quartet opening, marked allegro, begins as basically a divertimento, and is dominated by the violin. But for the first time, I hear the appearance of the ensemble without the solo violin. The violin continues through a change to a minor tonality, which doesn’t persist. Towards the end, the violin moves into its high register, and floats freely above the ensemble to a close.

The second movement, marked adagio, is the longest movement of the two quartets. Again, it reminds me of a Baroque feeling, played with a small ensemble, in a minor key. I suppose this is part of the Classical tradition. For the first time, the cello makes a solo melodic statement, and sometimes the ensemble makes more appearances without the violin leading. It always comes back, however. The cello comes forward again and there are many brief false endings in this movement where the violin slows to a pause. The accompaniment is highly attuned to the melodies of the violin, making for a very satisfying quartet sound. The violin develops some fine rhythmic patterns, as it leads the ensemble to a gentle finish.

The brief final movement again begins in a Baroque manner; it’s a little like a pared down version of one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. This is a very rhythmic movement, with a full sound. The violin and ensemble strike a very delicate balance and keep to a Bach-like ambience. I think I hear a passage for solo viola in there, before the rhythm returns. The end is a series of strong flourishes, which is a little out of character, and shows indications of the composer moving forward.

By String Quartet No. 6, the style has developed considerably, with a much wider dynamic and emotional range. The andante movement is very precious.

The review CD, Manfredini: Complete String Quartets, on the Brilliant Classics label, performed by the Quartetto Delfico is available on both Amazon US and UK, at a very reasonable price.

The CD is on Spotify, YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Simply delightful, with wonderful slow movements. One for the Classicists.


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