Grechaninov was born in Moscow a year before Sibelius and also died in New York a year before Sibelius. He was taught by Rimsky-Korsakov. His music did not migrate far from his roots and continued to write in that style well after the 1917 revolution had led to exile first in France and then in the USA. A prolific composer in all the usual genres, his reputation seems to rest mainly on choral music and to be rather tainted by suggestions of lack of originality. Certainly, by comparison with his near contemporary Sibelius, his style did not develop much, meaning it is rather hard to believe the fourth quartet was written as late as 1929. But, listening to this disc, I sometimes found the music hard to place and was not continually reminded of other composers, surely one sign of an original voice. There are four Grechaninov string quartets and this offering completes the Utrecht Quartet’s cycle. The previous disc was well-received by Michael Cookson three years ago (see review). Both works are in four movements with the slow movement placed second. They are fairly conventional but well-crafted and pleasant listening.
Grechaninov tends to be remembered rather tepidly as a conservative relic from Imperial Russia. Yet his progress as a child of the 1860s went as far as one might reasonably expect, from the healthy absorption of 19th-century Russian masters in the Op. 2 Quartet, his self-styled ‘first large independent work’, to the chromatic experimentation of the D minor Quartet, composed in 1913. They make a pretty pair. The warm, slightly laid-back approach of the likeable Utrecht Quartet fits the simple folksiness of the earlier piece like a delicately fashioned glove, making modest claims for a humble offshoot of Borodin’s glorious Second Quartet, with a discreet dash of Tchaikovskian melancholy. A more urgent, forward-moving approach would surely make a better case for the seemingly fragmented gestures of Op. 70’s opening movement; but first violinist Eeva Koskinen’s unaffected way with the Largo melody before fugal earnestness takes over is ideal, and an equally natural robustness highlights Grechaninov’s instinctive if hard-fought goodbye to chromaticism in much the more successful and meaningful of the two finales. Worth investigating, but there’s no doubt that Taneyev is a long way in front of Grechaninov as master of turn-of-the-century Russian chamber music.