About the album
With the obvious exception of Mozart, the most famous operatic composers were not at all prolific in the spheres of the symphony, string quartet or sonata. These genres are traditionally associated with sonata form, a disciplined structure requiring an entirely different approach. Verdi is a typical case, a natural man of the theatre who composed about thirty operas, and who is not immediately associated with instrumental forms.
Verdi completed his only string quartet in 1873 – i.e. roughly the period of Aida and the Requiem. Unsure of its value, he delayed publication until three years later. He remarked drily: “I don’t know whether it is good or bad, only that it is a quartet.” With astonishing modesty, he claimed to have composed it “merely for amusement”. He also laid himself open to criticism that the piece may be less than idiomatic when he welcomed the plan to perform the work in London with twenty players to a part – “since there are certain passages which require a fuller sonority than a mere quartet can furnish”. One might gather from his diffidence that the piece is unpretentious, but it is so much more than a mere diversion from writing operas. While Verdi does not attempt to emulate the rigorous developmental processes exercised by the great quartet composers, he does create on his own terms a highly individual and satisfying work distinguished by abundant craftsmanship. Tchaikovsky is a similar example, demonstrating his German-influenced contrapuntal skill when he chooses (as does Verdi in his fugal finale), but otherwise relying on his more instinctive gifts of melody, elegance and felicitous scoring.
During his earliest creative period Sibelius was strongly attracted to chamber music. The list of his juvenilia includes a piano quintet, four piano trios and about twenty works for string quartet, some incomplete. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that he composed and published only a single string quartet in his maturity.
Sibelius composed his only major string quartet, entitled Voces Intimae, between late 1908 and April 1909, though his first sketches date from as early as 1899–1903. At the time of the work’s completion he had only recently suffered from a throat tumour which he believed to be lifethreatening, but which proved benign.
As biographer Erik Tawaststjerna writes “both Voces Intimae and the Fourth Symphony [1910–11] reflect his inner life during the years immediately after the operation when he had passed through the shadow of the valley of death.” Following medical advice, in order to try to avoid a recurrence of the tumour, Sibelius reluctantly abstained from alcohol and tobacco for seven years, an interval which his wife Aino described as the happiest time of her life.
VERTAVO STRING QUARTET
ØYVOR VOLLE — VIOLIN
BERIT CARDAS — VIOLIN
HENNINGE LANDAAS — VIOLA
BJØRG LEWIS — CELLO
The Vertavo Quartet is recognized internationally as one of the most exciting and experienced string quartets of our time. Since their founding in Norway in 1984, their masterly performances and unique sound have enchanted audiences wherever they have played.
The Vertavo Quartet performs at all of the most important concert venues in the world. They tour throughout Europe, Scandinavia and the United States and are invited to such chamber music venues as Wigmore Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall in New York. The past concert season included appearances in the United States, Germany, the Czech Republic and Israel.
In addition to distinguishing themselves in the classical core repertoire for string quartet, Vertavo also has a great ability to interpret contemporary music – a skill that has led to memorable performances of works by Ligeti, Adès, Widmann, Gabriela Frank and many contemporary Nordic composers. Recently they gave the critically acclaimed first performances of Poul Ruders’ last string quartet in London’s Barbican Hall and at the Aldeburgh Festival.
Vertavo has collaborated with many of the world’s most outstanding artists including Leif Ove Andsnes, Håkan Hardenberger, Martin Fröst, Isabelle van Keulen and Lawrence Power. Recently they completed a widely acclaimed tour as a quintet in collaboration with the well-known British pianist Paul Lewis, performing also in this configuration at the opening of The Proms chamber music season in 2016.
Vertavo’s recordings include works by Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Grieg, Debussy, Bartok, Nielsen and Asheim. They have also recorded Mozart’s clarinet quintet with Martin Fröst. Their recordings of Debussy and Grieg earned them Diapason d’Or awards. In June of 2005, the Quartet received the Grieg prize – the most important cultural prize in Norway, one that is awarded only to artists of the highest international reputation. Exactly 10 years earlier, in 1995, they won first prize at the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition, where they also received both the audience prize and the critics’ prize.
Vertavo established its own international chamber music festival – The Vertavo Festival – in Norway in September, 2016. In autumn 2019, Vertavo celebrated its 35-year Jubilee with a marathon concert at Sentralen – a large center for the arts in downtown Oslo – where, in collaboration with some of their good musical friends, they performed all 68 of Haydn’s string quartets in 24 hours.