German Romantic composer Woldemar Bargiel [1828–1897] wrote four string quartets. Interestingly, he was Clara Schumann’s half-brother and met many fine composers due to this connection. I find his quartets to be characterised by stunning harmonised melodic lines, especially in No. 4, the work under discussion.
The Fourth Quartet opens in a moderate tempo, with the marking ma passionato, which sounds promising. Dramatic sweeping violins create a warm section of call and response, before the movement settles into some of the previously mentioned harmonised lines. This is busy music, although it does lighten up a little, introducing a wonderful harmonised line, which is also very expansive. Now the passion returns and a prolonged period of strong melodies eventually subsides back into a warm section, with a virtuosic solo violin phrase again leading the ensemble into a tempo. This music has a quality that I can’t quite seem to define – there seems to be a unique sense of cohesion between the instruments with the melodic lines so cleanly articulated. A busy, but wispy section follows and the sound contains a hint of Beethoven. Approaching the end, the tension rises, before a very measured section resolves into a final chord.
The next movement, marked andante, is again measured but eminently pleasing. Fine harmonies create a mellow section before the Romantic takes over with more energised melodies. Strong chords are interspersed with gently pulsing ensemble phrases, which soon move into being strongly rhythmic. A return to the andante tempo acts as a relief and a rich, sonorous sound can be heard. This is a splendid piece of writing which recalls the movement opening as a stately mood unfolds. Long, simply harmonised lines again remind me of Beethoven before a slow sustained chord ends.
The third movement begins in a dynamic manner as new melodies are presented in numerous, exciting ways. The harmonies are classic Romanticism as they oscillate between many tonal centres, sometimes even going back to a Baroque sound. A release brings further hints of Beethoven as a prominent cello rises above the ensemble for a time. Now the harmonies follow a well-travelled path that evokes Bach and Vivaldi, before the cello leads into a final chord.
The last movement features sporadic lines which, after a period of overlapping violins, move in a rapid tempo with great vigour. The ensemble positively races, and the cello struggles to sustain the energy. A return to the opening mood is again a welcome relief and the cello leads the violins in a three-way dialogue. This gives way to the racing tempo, albeit interspersed with gentler passages. A cello and violin duet is filled with melodic interest and leads to a powerful tempo. A false ending lingers as it drifts into a gentle passage before three chordal flourishes conclude.
There is a precision about Bargiel’s quartets that I find appealing, especially in this performance by the Orpheus Quartet.
The review 2-CD set, Bargiel: String Quartets Nos. 1-4; String Octet, on the CPO label contains the four quartets and a remarkable String Octet. It is currently available on Amazon US and UK.
The set can be found on Spotify.
Listenability: Charming Romantic works.