The Strad Issue: April 2015
Description: Scandinavian players do their namesake proud as they continue their exploration
Musicians: Stenhammar Quartet
Composer: Stenhammar

The Stenhammar Quartet has an eponymous obligation to do justice to Wilhelm Stenhammar’s quartets, and indeed it does in this disc that follows up the ensemble’s vol.1 (quartets nos.3 and 4, reviewed in October 2013). First of all, this is terrific quartet playing (for any repertoire), with its unanimity and flexibility, technical security and balance. In his First Quartet, Stenhammar slotted consciously into the Romantic Austro–German mainstream, with Brahms to the fore and Beethoven close behind. The players handle the dotted rhythms of the first movement with exuberance matched by clean, clipped phrasing, the sound always warm. On the whole they don’t meddle: they do what the composer says, following his dynamics, and it works beautifully. The slow movement of the First Quartet has a wistful simplicity; the syncopated third movement and the finale have easy-flowing charm, before Stenhammar moves into agitato and molto energico mode, with an unexpected tranquillo to round off.

In his Second Quartet the composer enters more enigmatic, chromatic territory and the players respond with a performance that is both gritty and warm. In the first movement they weave the disparate fragments into one emotionally charged narrative, and violist Tony Bauer plays beautifully in the sinuous, far-ranging first theme of the second movement. There is grim energy offset by flashes of Haydnesque cheerfulness in the scherzo and adept contrapuntal playing in the finale. The recorded sound is warm, with just enough bloom.