Telling performances show a Neapolitan virtuoso in a new light

Archos Quartet, Friedrich Thiele: D’Ambrosio

The Strad Issue: March 2024

Description: Telling performances show a Neapolitan virtuoso in a new light

Musicians: Archos Quartet, Friedrich Thiele (cello) Mio Tamayama (double bass)

Works: D’Ambrosio: Suite; String Quartet; En Badinant; Valse intermède; Pavane; Rêve

Catalogue number: TACTUS TC870401

The violinist Alfredo d’Ambrosio (1871–1914) was celebrated in his time as a composer–virtuoso who could conjure up profitable salon charmers alongside a showpiece concerto for the Berlin Philharmonic. This album of his chamber music illuminates another, more rigorous side to him, though the modest designation of Suite for the four-movement string quintet of 1900 reveals that d’Ambrosio was not aspiring to Brahmsian heights of formal integrity. Couched in a style between Mendelssohn and Mediterranean Elgar, the Suite satisfies very well on its own terms. Melodies seem to come easily to d’Ambrosio, the best of them being the gentle and fleeting Berceuse, before a finale that feels slightly out of place in its vein of earnest striving (more Elgar).

From eight years later, the String Quartet admits more unstable harmony and even embraces Expressionism at times. Any adventurous quartet would enhance its repertoire with this piece, though it would be hard pressed to match the rhythmic vitality, transparency and warmth of the Archos Quartet.

The miniatures for quintet depend on a relaxed pulse and well-pointed accents to keep excess sentimentality at bay; and the players have the full measure of them in a naturally engineered studio setting. The album’s only shortcoming is the abysmal ‘translation’ of the Italian booklet essay.