Kocian Quartet / Quartet M. Nostitz

Edvard Grieg: String Quartet Op. 27; Johan Svendsen: String Octet Op. 3

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In the late 19th century, Norway's leading composers were Edvard Grieg and Johan Svendsen, so programming two of their chamber works on this SACD from Praga was a reasonable idea. The pairing also gives the premiere recording of Svendsen's neglected String Octet in A major a much higher profile, since Grieg's String Quartet No. 1 in G minor is familiar enough to attract listeners, yet not so famous that it gets all of the attention. In terms of the music, the lyrical String Quartet is a modest piece that doesn't demonstrate great skill or ambition with string writing -- indeed, much of it sounds as if Grieg composed it at the piano -- yet its sweet tunefulness and melancholy coloration make it a charming example of late Romantic chamber music. Svendsen's cheerful Octet is a foil for the String Quartet, not only because it is sunny where the String Quartet is overcast, but its opulent textures are a nice contrast to Grieg's comparatively thinner scoring. However, the Octet offers little by way of expressiveness or originality, for it is bland when it isn't sentimental, and its sphere of emotions is limited to the quaint decorum of parlor music. Because of its lack of depth, it's difficult to imagine that many groups will champion the Octet outside of Norway. The playing by the Kocian Quartet and the M. Nostitz Quartet is respectable, though there is little in either piece that demands virtuosity, and the mildness of the music requires little passion.

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