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Alfano: String Quartets Nos. 1–3

Alfano: String Quartets Nos. 1–3

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Known more widely as a composer of operas, Franco Alfano also composed a body of chamber music including the three string quartets heard here in world premiere recordings.

String Quartet No. 1 in D major was composed during the First World War between 1914 and 1918. The String Quartet No. 2 in C major In Tre Tempi Collegati, composed in 1925–26, is a smaller scale work than the first, and mostly much more tonal in harmonic structure. The String Quartet No. 3 in G minor was written in 1945 and premiered in Rome on 28 November 1947.

The Quartet comprises violinists Elmira Darvarova and Mary Ann Mumm, violist Craig Mumm and cellist Samuel Magill. The same ensemble can also be heard on the acclaimed Naxos album of Alfano’s Violin Sonata and Piano Quintet (8.572753). Alfano's Cello Sonata and Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano can be heard on 8.570928.


The first two quartets date from a period that reached from the Great War to the mid-1920s. The opening of the String Quartet No. 1 is a Vivacissimo but the word stands feebly in the face of the torrid, angular tumult that is the first movement. An implacably melodious and fluently flowing Calmo was written as a memorial to his son who died while serving in the Italian military. It is followed by a Largo-Allegro Deciso. The first particle of this movement is a short extension of the mood of its predecessor but soon says a dry-eyed farewell with writing that is, at first, long on a tungsten determination. This is clearly relished by these four players. The music ends with a noble determination that seems to speak of a will to hold it together.

The tonality of the String Quartet No. 2 is placed under less stress than the First Quartet although it is by no means facile listening. It feels inventive. The second movement is marked ‘like a children’s song’. It is a delicate Thumbelina dance of a blossom. The final ‘danse villageoise’ accelerates all the way through.

The 1940s dealt blows to Alfano: much of his music was destroyed in the bombing of Turin and his wife died in 1943. It comes as little surprise that the writing of the first movement of the Third Quartet pierces a path into melancholy. Misty-eyed happiness is recalled but clearly it is not to be experienced again. Joy of a sort is grasped in the next movement, tipping over into the melodic complexity of the powerful Allegro finale. Alfano’s final String Quartet had a Rome premiere in 1947.

The CD’s notes could hardly be more needful – and incidentally meeting that need – when the music is otherwise unknown to all but a few. They are by the disc’s cellist, Samuel Magill. The performances are wondrously fervent, hot-house products. The sound is at your throat, heated and upon you with tiger-like ferocity.

-- MusicWeb International (Rob Barnett)

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: August 25, 2023

  • UPC: 747313904273

  • Catalog Number: 8579042

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Franco Alfano

  • Performer: Elmira Darvarova, Mary Ann Mumm, Craig Mumm, Samuel Magill