Quatuor Élysée

Benjamin Godard: Les Trois Quatuors

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

The amount of good instrumental music written in France in the 19th century, in a country whose musical life was supposedly completely dominated by opera, has been one of the pleasant discoveries of the 2000s. Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) has been largely forgotten. He wrote a great deal of music, including eight operas, in his short life, and he was criticized for being too prolific. But one suspects the real reason for his abandonment by the generation that followed him was that he was Jewish and had the temerity to criticize Wagner's anti-Semitism. The first two quartets here are in the Schumann tradition, with abundant melody, and, especially in the String Quartet No. 2 in A major, Op. 37, keen formal thinking. The inner movements are especially strong, with a light quality that makes the second movement of the String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 33, and the third movement of the String Quartet No. 2 sound a bit like operatic dance scenes. France's Quatuor Élysée, a group specializing in the French and Russian schools, gets the essential melodicism of the music. A very pleasant find for lovers of Romantic chamber music and an album the members of any string quartet ought to hear.

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