Quartetti Fugati

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The significance of the fugue in the generally melody-oriented and even frilly late 18th century is a subject about which an entire book has been written, and it makes a good focus for a string quartet recital. The Rincontro Quartet, a group of European historical-performance players specializing in the Classical era, successfully executes the idea here. What makes the subject tricky is that composers of the time wrote fugues for a variety of reasons. One was sheer fascination; the example of Mozart, who took himself to the woodshed with Bach's fugues, is particularly interesting, and a pair of Mozart's string quartet arrangements of Bach is included here. The influence of the diplomat and Bach connoisseur Gottfried van Swieten, who helped introduce Mozart to Bach and Handel, was also relevant. The booklet (in French and English) stresses Joseph II's fondness for the fugue form, perhaps a bit too much, for of the composers represented only Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, Haydn's friend and Beethoven's teacher, is likely to have been motivated by that factor, and even he remarked that "I deserve no credit for writing good fugues, for I never have an idea that does not lend itself to double counterpoint." Haydn, who did much to touch off the fugal craze, frames the program with two quartets from the Op. 20 set, both with fugal finales. Also represented is his predecessor and sometime nemesis at Esteráza, Gregor Joseph Werner, who seems to have written fugues out of sheer conservatism. His two pieces, although simply designated with the title "fuga," are, like Albrechtsberger's, preceded by slow introductions. Perhaps the nicest finds here are the two adagio-and-fugue pairs by Albrechtsberger, which are strict but, like Mozart's great late fugues, thoroughly Classical in spirit. With the usual strong engineering from Zig Zag Territoires, an enjoyable release for the High Classical devotee.

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