Primrose Quartet

Richard Strauss: Piano Quartet; Violin Sonata; Cello Sonata

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Apart from the large-scale, better known works like the tone poems and operas that were to come later in his career, Richard Strauss also composed a handful of well-received chamber works early on. This Meridian album features the Violin Sonata, the Cello Sonata, and the Piano Quartet. The seeds of Strauss' mature style, including his grandiose use of orchestra forces, his own tonal and harmonic tendencies, and separation from German Romanticism, are present in these works yet they still rest comfortably in the Romantic sensibilities from which Strauss was to distance himself. Performing are members of the Primrose Piano Quartet; the violin sonata employs violinist Susanne Stanzeleit and pianist John Thwaites and the cello sonata Bernard Gregor-Smith, formerly of the Lindsay String Quartet. In both instances, the performances are something of a letdown. Balance and sound quality are of primary concern. Both sonatas find the string players struggling to be heard over the piano. While this could be an issue of microphone placement, it sounds more likely that Stanzeleit and Thwaites are just failing to produce a sufficiently powerful, robust sound. For her own part, Stanzeleit plays with an acceptable technique and adequate intonation, but a rather unconvincing and blasé intensity and focus. Gregor-Smith's performance is certainly more engaging and intense, but it's not quite enough to make up for the lackluster sound quality and balance. Disc 2 finds the entire quartet united and in so doing, balance seems much more refined and everyone is playing with conviction and assertiveness. With discs 1 and 2 clocking in at 54 and 38 minutes, respectively, it's a rather lean program for a two-disc set.

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