Magazine article Gramophone

Schulhoff: Complete String Quartets

Magazine article Gramophone

Schulhoff: Complete String Quartets

Article excerpt


Complete String Quartets

Alma Quartet

Gutman (F) (2) CDNR161 (110' * DDD)

This is the first comprehensive set of the music for string quartet by a composer whose notated yet completely silent anti-war statement In futurum (not part of this particular venture) anticipated John Cage's 4'33" by more than 30 years. It's an extraordinary traversal, beautiful, witty, unsettling and, as so often with Erwin Schulhoff, redolent of the Roaring Twenties, soon to roar out of control into one of the darkest periods in modern history, the composer himself being one of its tragic victims. The Alma Quartet is made up of players from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, so one can expect, as a matter of course, a keen sense of musical interrelation.

The numbered quartets are perhaps the most accomplished works here, the First (1924) opening with a ferocious Presto confuoco reminiscent of Hindemith at his most uncompromisingly precocious, then a wryly lilting Allegretto, an Allegro giocoso that toys with Bartokian dance rhythms and employs whistling harmonics, and the mysterious finale, nearly seven minutes of melancholy or agitated musing that's not too far removed from the darker music in Prokofiev's two quartets, the Second especially. Schulhoff's own Second Quartet (1925) takes sustenance from the world of Smetana (the Piano Trio and The Bartered Bride), or seems to, whereas halfway through the Theme-and-variations second movement we're thrown into a mirror-image Twenties dance music.

The Five Pieces date from 192 3 and do the rounds of Vienna, Italy, the Czech Republic and Argentina, with music to match, the warmly seductive Alia tango milonga fourth movement being the most original. …

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