Braunfels String Quartets Nos 1 and 2 Auryn Quartett
Walter Braunfels: String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor, “Verkündigung,”
op. 60. String Quartet No. 2 in F, op. 61
CPO 999 406-2 (59:14)
Walter Braunfels came late to the string quartet medium, and his
Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (of three) date from 1944, when he was in his early 60s.
At the time, he was based in Überlingen on Lake Constance, an internal exile in
Nazi Germany, having been forcibly removed from his position as director of the
Cologne Academy of Music on account of his part-Jewish ancestry. Immediately
after the war he was reinstated, and the two quartets were premiered in Cologne
The light and gracefully melodic nature of this music gives little
impression of the traumatic times in which it was written. Braunfels devoted much
of his time in southern Germany to chamber music, and was clearly engaging with
Classical-era models. The structure and scale of the two works harks back to
middle-period Beethoven, as do many of the expressive features, the rigorous
thematic development and the modest but proficiently voiced counterpoint. Some
of the textures are more radical, especially the regular division of the
quartet into two pairs of instruments in the First Quartet, and the harmony is
a little more advanced as well, but, from a technical perspective, everything
here speaks of a composer who came of age at the turn of the century.
The First Quartet is the more adventurous of the two in terms of mood
and texture. Its subtitle, “Verkündigung” (Annunciation), refers to the opera
Braunfels composed in 1933–5, from which the quartet derives most of its
themes. A sense of operatic mood setting is apparent in the sprightly opening
phrases, and in the third movement scherzo, where flageolet harmonics give a
spectral quality to some of the later variants. The Langsam second movement is conceived on a grand, operatic scale,
yet retains a sense of intimacy for the refinement of the textures and melodic language.
The Second Quartet is more Classical in conception, more upbeat for its
major key and for its light bouncy textures, often with delicate melodies in
the violins supported and propelled by repeated-noted figures in the cello. The
middle movements of the First Quartet have German performance directions, whereas
in the Second all are Italian, an indication, perhaps that Braunfels was focusing
more on Classical models in the latter work.
The Auryn Quartett gives energetic and elegant readings of these two
works. The unity of ensemble is impressive, especially in the passages of rhythmic
unison, such as the opening of the Second Quartet. The tonal control is
impressive too, although the sound sometimes takes on an abrasive edge in very
loud passages, of which there are many in the First Quartet—but better that
than hold back for the big climaxes. While sound is mostly rich and warm, the Adagio of the Second Quartet sounds a
little thin, a consequence perhaps of Braunfels’s Classical inclinations here.
This release is not described as a first recording, but it is the only
version of these quartets currently available. It is a reissue of a release
from 1998: The reissue is simply a renewed distribution of the original disc in its
original packaging, no doubt designed to cash in on the Braunfels revival that
has recently been taking place in Germany, a canny move on the part of CPO, and
fully justified, given the label’s central role in bringing it about in the
appears in Fanfare magazine, issue 41:3.
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