Leipziger Streichquartett / Ruth Ziesak

Wagner, Puccini, Resphighi, Verdi, Humperdinck: String Quartets

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Few would deny that the string quartet's greatest practitioners were the Classical masters of sonata form, and that its tradition favored composers who specialized in instrumental music. Romantic opera composers who tried their hands at the medium sometimes struggled with traditional sonata practices, and tended to treat the string quartet primarily as a vehicle for lyrical ideas. Thus, Giacomo Puccini's simple Crisantemi, Richard Wagner's short Albumblatt, and the seldom-heard string quartets by Giuseppe Verdi and Engelbert Humperdinck are weak in development, undistinguished in part writing, and unremarkable in structure; but all are strong on melody and accompaniment, as might be expected. To go further in this lyrical vein, one would be obliged to add a human voice to the ensemble, as Ottorino Respighi did in his Il Tramonto for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, a melodramatic scena of considerable emotional power, but hardly a string quartet, even by the loosest definition. Students of the string quartet genre will find this album by the Leipziger Streichquartett and guest vocalist Ruth Ziesak to be a pleasant byway, and worth adding to any collection, but the music never rises to greatness, and the performances seem to be constrained by the unambitious material, so they are somewhat less than compelling. MDG's unprocessed digital sound is warm and comfortable, with natural resonance and presence.

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