Magazine article Gramophone

Zemlinsky: 'Complete String Quartets'

Magazine article Gramophone

Zemlinsky: 'Complete String Quartets'

Article excerpt

Zemlinsky

'Complete String Quartets' String Quartets--No 1, Op 4; No 2, Op 15; No 3, Op 19; No 4, 'Suite', Op 25; E minor Brodsky Quartet Chandos [F] (2) CHAN10845(152' * DDD)

'Zemlinsky: Complete String Quartets' is a slightly different deal to Chandos's last packaging of similar repertoire, in performances by the Schoenberg Quartet, 'Zemlinsky: Chamber Music for Strings'. There you had the four standard quartets, plus Maiblumen bluhten uberall for soprano and string sextet, and Two Movements for string quartet; here, in addition to the cycle as we know it (or have known it up to now), there's a 'premiere recording', the Quartet in E minor that Zemlinsky composed while still in his early twenties, something of an invalid ticket when it was first played: it apparently failed to pass its trial at the Tonkunstlerverein, of which the composer was an active member after leaving the Vienna Conservatory. Like Schoenberg's earliest completed quartet (the D major of 1897), echoes of Brahms and Dvorak (especially) abound, the highly contrasted middle movements being perhaps the most memorable.

As to the main works, the interpretative gulf between the two sets of performances is often pretty wide, at its most obvious at the start of the Third Quartet, where the Schoenberg Quartet sound cautious, as if entering territory that's either unsafe or unknown (maybe both). The Brodskys take Zemlinsky's jagged gestures in their stride, their grasp of the music's shifting metres absolutely secure. In the Theme and Variations second movement, the Schoenbergs are strong on mystery, the Brodskys on unbridled humour and a certain sense of danger. By comparison, the Artis Quartet of Vienna (Nimbus) are more blatant than either, though their unblushing directness has its own appeal. The Brodskys turn inwards for the work's 'Romanza', a wonderful reading, bringing the music into alignment with Berg and Bartok at their greatest. …

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