Luigi Cherubini, the Italian composer transplanted to revolutionary France best remembered for his operas and sacred music, also wrote six string quartets. Three were published in his lifetime while the other three remained unpublished until 1875. Even aside from their own intrinsic merits -- attractive themes, lucid textures, brilliant modulations, cogent developments, and a wonderful balance between Classical polish and Romantic passion -- these works were admired by Beethoven; by Schumann, who had them performed in his living room; and by Brahms, who edited them for publication. Yet they remained resolutely under-performed and -recorded in the stereo era; only Archiv released a set of the complete quartets performed by the German Melos Quartett.
The digital era has been kinder to Cherubini's quartets. Including this 2008 set on Stradivarius by the young Italian group Quartetto Savinio, there have been four complete cycles of the work. The Quartetto Savinio's enthusiasm, dedication, and skill, plus warm-hearted lyricism and sensitivity to Cherubini's dramatic style, make the performances at least as appealing as the Melos Quartett's. The opening Allegro moderato in the A minor quartet is driven but not obsessive, the Andantino grazioso is poised between intimacy and melancholy, the Scherzo is buoyant but not frivolous, and the closing Allegro affetuoso propulsive but always together. Anyone who enjoys early nineteenth century string quartets will surely enjoy Cherubini's quartets. Stradivarius' digital sound is lean, dry, and a tad too close.