Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo - Trio
Movement 3: Andante cantabile
Movement 4: Allegro vivace
Listeners coming to the outer movements without prior knowledge might well think they were the work of a gifted younger contemporary of Beethoven imitating the manner of the master’s Op 18 quartets. There is a whiff of Mendelssohn, of Schubert too in the con espressione second subject of the first movement; but the shape and balance of the themes, the cut of the cadences, the purposeful motivic working and the contrapuntal fluency, with thematic interest skilfully shared between the four voices—all these are strongly evocative of much of Beethoven’s first-period chamber music. But Strauss’s youthful over-eagerness to do justice to his thematic material is evident in both outer movements where the development sections, despite their complexity and diligent workmanship, are over-extended and reproduce the outlines of the exposition rather too closely.
Of the two inner movements the Scherzo, placed second, is an invigorating and entertaining piece, with fierce Beethovenish off-beat accents, suave Mozartian cadences and a recurrent drone bass that irresistibly recalls the Haydn of the late quartets. The Trio, in complete contrast, introduces a sinuous, slightly plaintive violin solo in a slower tempo. Though it touches no depths of feeling, the B minor Andante, in sonata form, has an attractive Mendelssohnian wistfulness; and Strauss’s treatment of the violin semiquaver figure which accompanies the second theme, and which permeates the development, is both neat and resourceful.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 1999