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Quatuor Diotima Plays Onslow

available at Amazon
Onslow, String Quartets, op. 54-56, Quatuor Diotima

(released on March 30, 2010)
Naïve V5200 | 77'37"

Online scores:
Onslow, op. 54 | op. 55 | op. 56
The Quatuor Diotima has been invited to Washington a couple times, to play on the contemporary music series at La Maison Française, with programs of serial music and pieces by Pascal Dusapin. The young French foursome is coming back to their embassy tonight (April 19, 7:30 pm), for a program of quartets by Thomas Larcher (b. 1963) and Ravel, as well as works by François Sarhan (b. 1972) and Gérard Pesson (b. 1958). The inspiration for the Diotima's most recent disc, devoted to the string quartets of George Onslow (1784-1853), came from contacts with the Centre de musique romantique française, a research institute recently established in the Palazetto Bru Zane in Venice. In particular the members of the quartet have acknowledged the help of Onslow specialist Viviane Niaux, who introduced them to Onslow's music and provided them with scores to some of his string quartets.

Here at Ionarts we take a certain perverse delight at combing through the back files of music history, so it should come as no surprise that this is far from our first post on the music of Onslow. This lesser-known French composer, a student of Anton Reicha known in his day as "the French Beethoven" (and still celebrated as a favorite son of his native Clermont-Ferrand -- he is buried in the city's Cimetière des Carmes), was incredibly prolific in the production of chamber music, including three dozen string quartets, almost as many quintets, a nonet, and more. The Diotima has chosen three of Onslow's quartets, from the last third of the composer's output, undertaken in the 1830s after he had heard Beethoven's late contributions to the genre, op. 130 and 135.

Whatever Onslow may have thought of the excesses and eccentricities of the late Beethoven quartets, these quartets still sound mostly like middle-period Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Schubert (all composers who claimed to admire Onslow, by the way), although without sounding derivative of any one composer, always in Onslow's own distinctive voice. All three quartets remain in the traditional four movements, all about twenty-five minutes in duration, the only unusual formal touch being that some of them place the dance movement before the slow movement. The performances are beautifully played, recorded at the MC2 in Grenoble in that warm, gorgeous Naïve sound (produced by Hugues Deschaux), with perhaps some slightly edgy harshness in the tone of the violins at the most agitated points. Further in this release's favor is that the three quartets recorded here do not overlap with any of the Mandelring Quartet's three volumes of Onslow's quartets on the Cpo label.

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