The notoriety of Swiss composer Paul Juon suffered at the hands of both geography and chronology. Although a Swiss citizen, he was raised and schooled in Russia and spent the bulk of his career as a composition teacher in Germany. Juon was virtually the same age as both Scriabin and Schoenberg, but did not share his contemporaries' penchants for serialism or other forward-looking compositional techniques. Instead, Juon's compositions are firmly tonal and deeply rooted in the late Romantic idiom. These factors likely contributed to his relative obscurity. However, his rediscovery and this collection of his four string quartets is truly a gift to listeners and aficionados of the string quartet. Each of the four works, written between 1896 and 1916, demonstrate Juon's considerable compositional skills; intricate counterpoint, exceptional treatment of the inner voices, broad tonal spectrum, synthesis of Russian folk tunes, and soaring melodies are clearly heard in every movement.
Of course, to make the works of a relatively unknown composer successful requires an exceptional performance. Fortunately, the Niziol Quartett delivers just that. The sound is lush, warm, and brilliantly balanced -- a perfect complement to Juon's works. Each of the quartet's members executes individual solos beautifully, but also provides equally sensitive accompaniments. The string quartets of Paul Juon, and this album in particular, are a highly welcome addition to any collection.