Donizetti’s Delightful Quartets

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Gaetano Donizetti’s reputation as one of the bel canto school’s most influential and prolific composers tends to overshadow his industrious accomplishments in other genres. The majority of his 18 string quartets date from the composer’s early 20s, after he had studied with Simon Mayr, who admired Beethoven and wrote a monograph about Haydn. If Donizetti’s quartets don’t always run deep, his idiomatic handling of the medium and tuneful appeal cannot be denied. Certainly the Mitja Quartet makes a fine case for the six works presented in the first volume of a projected Donizetti quartet cycle.

Collectively and individually the musicians convey tonal beauty and nuanced phrasing far beyond the scrawny scope of the period instrument groups featured in CPO’s Donizetti series. Here Quartet No. 4’s second-movement Canzone takes on the character of a poignant aria, while No. 8’s Minuet communicates equal doses of tension and understatement in the Trio section’s accompanying chords underneath the first violin’s trills.

Even if one prefers Revolutionary Drawing Room’s faster tempo for No. 14’s concluding Allegro on CPO, their ugly tone and casual ensemble cannot compare to the Mitja’s impeccable execution and detailed characterization. Curiously, the ensemble underplays the drama of No. 5’s opening Allegro with a basic tempo that occasionally meanders and some shapeless, static phrasing; they don’t match the decisive unanimity and thrust of the Quartetto Bernini’s wonderful though overly reverberant recording on Tactus. However, the Mitja Quartet nails the Presto Minuetto’s unpredictable rhythms to more incisive effect. In all, a strong start to a most welcome cycle.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: String Quartets, Vol. 1
Reference Recording: No. 5: Quartetto Bernini (Tactus), The rest: This one

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