Friedrich Theodor Fröhlich (1803-1836)
String Quartet in G minor (1826)
String Quartet in E major (1827/28)
String Quartet in C minor (1832)
Mátyás Bartha, violin
Laurentius Bonitz, violin
Vahagn Aristakesyan, viola
Carlos Conrad, cello
(2015) – TT 72:04
In a nutshell:
• Fröhlich’s string quartets are excellent works of their kind, amply contrapuntal, prone to flights of fugato, and in their tonal makeup resemble the quartets of Beethoven and Schubert.
• String Quartet in G minor (1826) references Haydn’s “Emperor” quartet in its opening, a gorgeous theme and variations, and concludes with a vigorous finale loaded with imitative counterpoint.
• String Quartet in E major (1827/28) stands out for its neo-Baroque “Scherzo” of virtuosic violin activity and an exciting “Finale” of intense verve and drama, reminiscent of Beethoven’s “Rage over a lost penny.”
• String Quartet in C minor (1832) sounds like an estranged cousin to Beethoven’s Op. 59, with a dark-hued “Allegro agitato” and a finale that is essentially a fugue of noble disposition.
• BeethovenQuartett is a polished and fine ensemble.
• Sound is good and the natural ambience is vivid.
Friedrich Theodor Fröhlich (1803-1836) is a tragic case of a young composer unrecognized in his native Switzerland and so unhappy with his lack of fame that he drowned himself at the age of 33. His failure to meet with public success is bewildering. These string quartets are quality works with the fresh lyricism of Schubert and the kind of deft contrapuntal writing that would have pleased Haydn. Fröhlich even references Haydn’s “Emperor” in his G minor quartet. One should be aware that this recording has an important rival: the Complete String Quartets by the Rasumowsky Quartett, a 2-CD set on CPO containing four string quartets, including the F minor, which is missing from the present release.
Fröhlich has a propensity to disregard convention with regards to form and length. His movements are taut, averaging 6 minutes, and his form is rarely traditional and difficult to pin down. These elements are manifested in the String Quartet in G minor (1826). Instead of a sonata-allegro for an opening movement, he begins with a theme and variations. His theme is introspective and noble with lovely contours, while the variations tend to be similar in their textures, either gently contrapuntal or showing off florid lines on the 1st violin. The “Largo cantabile” has the lyrical sweetness of Schubert and a fine interplay of strings, especially the cello. The “Finale” is in sonata form and generally serious. It begins with a growling bass figure in the cello and a stream of imitative contrapuntal figures, followed by a happier second theme with a catchy rhythmic shape.
The String Quartet in E major (1827/28) covers a wide emotional territory in its four concise movements. The opening “Allegretto” doesn’t appear to be in sonata form. It’s sunny and pleasing with each part exquisitely transparent in the texture. A more effective effort is the “Scherzo,” full of animated neo-Baroque violin patter, sequences, and lively fugato sections. This is fun listening. The “Adagio” swims in melancholy waters tinged with expressive depth, although not much remarkable about its melodic contours. For me, the “Finale” is the sterling achievement here: exciting, buoyant, and rushing headlong like Beethoven’s “Rage over a lost penny.” It then yields to extensive fugato, rises to dramatic intensity, and switches on a dime to repose as a new melody emerges at the end. Fröhlich is definitely unorthodox in his approach to form; nothing is formulaic with him.
Schubert and Beethoven loom over the String Quartet in C minor (1832), which sounds like an estranged cousin to the Op. 59. The “Allegro agitato” is mostly sober with a dark-hued 1st theme and a lovely, yearning 2nd theme. This is followed by a warm “Andante” and an ebullient “Scherzo” with unusual accents, pauses, and deceptive cadences revealing Beethoven’s influence. I was also reminded of late Beethoven in the “Finale,” which is a substantial piece of self-contained music; dignified, suspenseful, and embarking on a fugue for most of the movement. Several fugue subjects appear and there’s moments that evoke the grandeur, if not quality, of a late Beethoven fugue. BeethovenQuartett is a polished and fine ensemble, although I haven’t heard their other recordings. Sound is good and the natural ambience is vivid.
Fröhlich – Works & Recordings