Although not exactly a household name, Norwegian composer Catharinus Elling (1858-1942) wrote symphonies, a violin concerto, chamber music, the opera "Taras Bulba" and more than two hundred songs. In a correspondence to Grieg, who had taken the young composer under his wing and urged him to study at Berlin's Hochschule für Musik, Elling revealed that Mozart and Beethoven had been his prime models, while the more modern music of Bruckner and Wagner were little to his taste.
Although Elling's compositional style is traditional and romantic, the two string quartets and piano quartet premiered on this disc offer a refreshing display of varied colors and expressive instrumental writing. The music is performed by the Engegård Quartet, which is joined in the Piano Quartet in G Minor by Nils Anders Mortensen.
The Engegård Quartet performs these charming works—so reminiscent of Schubert and Mendelssohn—with refinement and polished ease. There is no savagery to be heard here by way of aggressive playing, or bombast, but rather, pleasing sounds of European old world, including tasteful and elegant portamenti throughout the numerous cantilena sections. The two string quartets by Elling are nicely contrasted; the more playful D Major, with its light-hearted themes and dance-like character, such as a very Viennese third movement, is pared with the second quartet in A Minor; a more richly textured, and perhaps, emotionally deeper quartet, which bubbles with impetuous virtuosity. The quartet was well-received by the Norwegian press in 1923, and praised for its rhythmically distinctive, patriotically nuanced themes, and for the considerable contrapuntal art that had been invested in it.
The Piano Quartet is a formidable work composed in the language of the High Romantics, and masterfully played by one of Norway's most gifted pianists, Nils Anders Mortensen. Certainly one can hear the Brahmsian influence at work here, and also the close personal relationship and charm of Grieg. It is an expansive and full-bodied composition which grows in intensity towards its conclusion. The quartet is skillfully rendered in this disc with a perfect balance of clarity and verve.
The Catharinus Elling Quartets CD on the SIMAX label are a wonderful discovery. These works are most deserving of repeated listenings and performances.