Being an aficionado of sick genius and musical chaos, I confess I first read these words of George Onslow, the “French Beethoven”, as a compliment. I thought it an honest recognition that everything written before would pale into embarrassing insignificance.
Having now heard a piece by Onslow, his string quartet in C minor, Opus 8 No.1, I acknowledge that the world of musicography would not be diminished in any way had Onslow burned everything he had composed.
It was a clever juxtaposition by the Consone String Quartet at the Pump Rooms last Friday, as the familiarity of Haydn (Opus 9 No 4) and the banality of the Onslow provided a marked contrast with the sublime complexity of Beethoven’s Opus 131.
I first heard the C# minor half a century ago, in a recording by the Amadeus. Since then, I have heard it performed many times – notably by the Petersen, the Emerson and the Lindsays – but the Amadeus has remained my go-to version. Until now.
The Consone play instruments with gut strings using early 19th century bows and extracted new (to me at least) sounds without losing the warmth and complexity of the score with its long emotional sweep from opening fugue (beautifully articulated by the Consone) to its charging, dashing, careering finale.
Of course, although there are seven movements, the quartet is played without pause. It is seamless, fluid and, ultimately, cathartic. And last Friday, the Consone owned it.
Today from the everysmith vaults: The Consone has not yet recorded the 131. But on Friday, in the break between the Onslow and the Beethoven, I managed to acquire a CD of Shostakovich’s 4th Symphony by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia. I used to have this on vinyl, and although I’m a Kyril Kondrashin kinda guy when it comes to Dmitri, I have been playing this “essential” re-release and can confirm that it is exactly that: essential.