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Dip Your Ears, No. 209 (Discovering Titz)

available at Amazon
A.F. Titz, String Quartets v.2,
Hoffmeister Quartet
Profil Hänssler

Chamber Music You Didn’t Know You Love: Titz

Imagine the most moving slow opening that could be written for string quartet. Imagine it caught in a rich, resonant acoustic and played so accurately and beautifully that you’d never know there is an original instrument quartet at work. Even if you succeed invoking that aural image, chances are that the Anton Ferdinand Titz String Quartet in E flat (1781, No.6) will exceed your expectations. The Hoffmeister Quartet plays four of this largely unknown composer and violinist’s quartets with the kind of passion and skill that they need and, more so: deserve. (Incidentally that’s not the norm; I remember in particular the very interesting quartets by Joseph Wölfl from around the same time—let down by shoddy HIP group’s playing.) There is even a sense of a sacred halo around the music, though that probably has more to do with the acoustic of the church these quartets were recorded in. The glow thus bestowed on the music strikes me as appropriate, especially since the players are recorded closely enough that no details are lost.

It is the Hoffmeister Quartet’s commitment to these A. F. Titz’s (1742-1810) works from his time at the Russian Court of Catherine the Great and Czar Alexander I. that makes this disc great even where the music can’t quite uphold the promise of its opening lines. The composer himself left more music—especially chamber music—than he did biographical material. He was—presumably—born in Nuremberg; as an orphan he grew up with relatives. In his 20s he moved to Vienna where he—presumably—met Gluck who got him a position in the opera orchestra. When a Russian magistrate heard his playing—perhaps at one of Prince Lobkowitz’ musical happenings—the musician, not quite 30, was invited to the court in St.Petersburg where he was employed and would stay for the rest of his life. That part at least is known for sure. We also know that Louis Spohr met Titz in 1802/03 and commented very favorably on his compositional genius, less favorably on his old fashioned violin playing, and with slight irritation about his confused state of mind that manifested itself in nonsensical speeches or prolonged terms of silence. Interesting also a comment in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung from a few years later about Titz as the unsurpassed master of the Adagio. If you listen to the two adagios on this disc, that statement makes perfect sense.

Twelve quartets survive of the composer, the six “Golizyn Quartets” from 1781 (two of which are on this compilation), three “Alexander I. Quartets” from 1802, and three “Teplow Quartets” from 1808. Of some of these works, the very substantial C major Teplow Quartet for example, complete scores were only discovered within the last few years. (The Hoffmeister Quartet’s performance is a world premiere recording, a fact that the understated design of the Profil Hänssler release mentions in the small print of the informative liner notes, not plastered across the cover.) That late quartet incorporates Russian folk music influences to an extend that even the untrained ear can detect a musical accent well east of Vienna. Just a few repeat listening sessions leave me with the indelible impression that we are dealing with some of the agreeable music of its kind and of its time… all the more notable given the truly great string quartets that have been written and published by his much more famous contemporaries.

This is volume two in what should be a series of three discs. I fear that in English speaking parts of the world he might always remain the butt (as it were) of inappropriate jokes… all the same, I can’t wait to get my hands on more Titz.

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