The five surviving string quartets of Carl Reinecke describe an arc. His two earliest quartets were discarded and lost, but his first published quartet appears in 1845 at the start of his career. The last was completed in 1909, a year before his death.

Reinecke studied with both Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. The influence of these teachers is apparent in Reinecke’s String Quartet No. 1. Completed when the composer was just eighteen, it’s a well-constructed work full of potential.

By contrast, the String Quartet No. 5 in G minor is pure Reinecke. Written at the end of his career, the quartet benefits from a lifetime of compositional experience. The construction is complex and sophisticated. Thick, chromatic harmonies masterfully guide the listener through the work.

The middle quartets show the gradual development of a composer finding his own voice. By the end of his life, Reinecke was considered somewhat old-fashioned. Yet he always remained true to his musical ideal, eschewing fashion for authenticity.

The Reinhold Quartett performs admirably in this cycle. The players are all members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, an organization Reinecke directed for over 30 years. I like to think it gives the quartet a natural affinity for Reinecke’s style.

The quartet has a lush, full sound in these recordings. And yet I could easily follow individual lines in the music. Reinecke wrote, “Time mows down artworks that are not created by a brilliant artist, which I am not.” Perhaps. But mowed vegetation sometimes grows back.

The Reinhold Quartett’s performances do justice to these works. They convinced me that Reinecke’s quartets merit a listen — and perhaps more than just a listen.

Carl Reinecke: Complete String Quartets
Reinhold Quartett
CPO
2 CD Set