Brahms / Dessoff, String Quartets op.51/2 and F-major, op.7 ,
When Brahms develops a 35 minute quartet out of just a few basic musical building blocks, the result is (or can be) an expressive stringency the kind of which got Hugo Wolf to declare Brahms the “undisputed master of composing without ideas” and even Britten to quip that it wasn’t bad Brahms he minded, but good Brahms that he couldn’t stand.
Brahms / Herzogenberg, SQ4ts opp.67/1 & 42/2,
Brahms / Gernsheim, SQ4ts op.51/2 & A-minor, op.31,
This disc is worth a strong recommendation for the Brahms a-minor alone. But there is more. Rather than point out there that the ‘filler’ on the Brahms is “this neat, unknown F.O.Dessoff”, the performance and the quartet deserve to be mentioned, praised, and recommended separately. In fact, I’d give this disc the same two thumbs up even if it only included either of the two quartets.
That’s not only because the playing is outstanding (the recordings are 9 years old and include the former cellist of the Quartet, but the CD was released only now), but also because Dessoff’s op.7 is much more than just an afterthought to the Brahms quartet: it’s a wonderful work that deserves to be smack-dab in the middle of the string quartet repertoire of more groups than just the Mandelring Quartett. Brahms himself, a friend of Dessoff’s, found to have “such an unassuming face that one hardly dare praise it out loud… It would greatly please me to have my name printed on the front page [ of this quartet] that is amiable smiling at me…”
Holger Best’s liner notes mention that Dessoff did not want to sully his reputation as great performer with a second-rate composition. He need not have worried in this case: The F-major quartet smiles amiably, indeed. All four movements are ear-catching, a joy to listen to, unpretentious, simple but not simplistic, full of joy but not silly.
What makes it so immediately and lastingly enjoyable is perhaps that skilled but still not so very seriously well crafted (Brahms) element in it, or the fact that it is perfectly romantic without being burdened with dreamy portentousness (Schumann, some may say).
The delicate pizzicato theme running through the opening Larghetto merges with beautiful lyrical lines for an exquisite slow movement. The Poco andantino has Viennese café-house mood and gaiety running through its veins (and that from a cool northern German!). The outer movements, a driving Allegro ben moderato and a busy Allegro con brio have less a personal touch to them but are more than adequate opening and closing statements. What else did this Dessoff compose???