Fine Arts Quartet

Saint-Saëns: String Quartets

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The two string quartets of Camille Saint-Saëns are not among the deathless masterpieces in the genre, but they offer enough entertaining and agreeable music to be regarded as minor classics of chamber music. The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 112, and the String Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 153, share the craftsmanship, intellectual rigor, and tastefulness that are characteristic of Saint-Saëns' conservative style. Yet these pieces are largely melodic and homophonic in orientation and have relatively little of the independent voices and engaging repartee that were essential to the great string quartets of the Classical and early Romantic periods. Like other late Romantics, who tended to regard the form as essentially lyrical, with occasional interruptions of developmental and fugal interludes, Saint-Saëns wrote quartet music that sometimes seemed designed more for the keyboard rather than for four string players. A virtuoso organist and pianist, Saint-Saëns may not have been aware of all the technical resources of string instruments, and his parts are deficient in idiomatic touches. All the same, these are charming parlor works that are easy to like, and the Fine Arts Quartet performs them with a light and genial air. While they are serious musicians who are wholly committed to the music, they leave an impression that their playing is almost effortless, and they utterly avoid pretentiousness. Naxos provides clean sound with a pleasant acoustic that gives the strings depth and added color.

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