Quartetto Prometeo

Wolf: Complete Music for String Quartet

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The composer of hundreds of lieder, Hugo Wolf wrote little chamber music. His best-known piece in this genre is the Italian Serenade for string quartet, a cheerful rondo in G major that lasts a little over six minutes. That piece, a fairly volatile Intermezzo in E flat major that runs almost twice as long as the Italian Serenade, and the 43-minute long String Quartet in D minor make up his complete output for this ensemble. Typical for late-19th century chamber music, these at times resemble the light parlor music of the time, rather more than the formally balanced and innovative masterpieces of Haydn, Beethoven, or Schubert. Wolf was never comfortable working in the Classical forms, and his earnest String Quartet shows a reluctance to engage in repartée that would open up the group's textures, and a reliance on chordal writing that contributes to the work's heavy, overcrowded feeling. In the end, the shorter pieces reflect the true Wolf in their lyricism, clarity, and charming shifts of mood, and the Quartetto Prometeo is the most engaging in these performances. While the group has a slightly rough edge and something less than a smooth blend, it has drama and spontaneity working in its favor, so the playing is interesting if it isn't always pleasing. Brilliant's reproduction captures every note, but the sound quality isn't especially warm or appealing.

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