The Strad Issue: May 2016
Description: A Norwegian ensemble gets right inside Grieg’s singular String Quartet
Musicians: EngegŠrd Quartet
Composer: Grieg; Sibelius; Thommessen

It’s good to hear Grieg’s utterly individual string quartet played by an ensemble that has an equally distinctive sound – in this case, the EngegŠrd Quartet’s tight blend and Ravelian lightness, so refreshing when the thick textures of Grieg’s score (all that double-stopping) so often weigh it down. Emotionally, the ensemble is just as lithe. The Romanze collapses into turmoil from its own nonchalance and the stalking pizzicato accompanying passage in the finale is vividly delivered. The EngegŠrd Quartet can do ‘plainness’ too – all-important in Grieg’s music – as witness Jan Clemens Carlsen’s cello solo over his tremolo colleagues in the first movement, full of purity and air. The recording helps, with the right combination of distance and proximity.

Turn to the Sibelius Quartet, and I’m afraid some familiar old problems surface: an Adagio di molto movement that moves too quickly to achieve the suggested tenacity, and some fear of the background patterning in the Vivace, which the quartet seems to want to shape (the way Sibelius projects things on to it means that the players don’t have to). That, and perhaps the EngegŠrd’s delicious lightness and occasional breathlessness, are better suited to the quartet aesthetic of Grieg (Ravel’s hero) than to that of Sibelius. Olav Anton Thommessen’s Felix Remix is a filler in every sense of the word.

Andrew Mellor