> ZEMLINSKY Quartets etc. [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Alexander ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Chamber Music for Strings

String Quartet No. 1 (1896)
String Quartet No. 2 (1913-15)
String Quartet No. 3 (1924)
String Quartet No. 4 Suite (1936)
Maiblumen blühten überall for soprano and string sextet (Dehmel) (1898)
Two Movements for string quartet (1927)
Maiblumen: Susan Narucki (sop); Jan Erik van Regteren Altena (viola); Taco Kooistra (cello)
Schoenberg Quartet
rec Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam (2, 3), Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, Renswoude (all others); 14-15 Dec 1993 (1); 16-17 Dec 1993 (4); 14 Feb 1994 (Maiblumen); 15 Feb 1994 (Two Movements); 30 June-1 July 2000 (2); 16-17 Jan 2001 (3) DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 9772(2) [79.14+67.45]


The Schoenberg Quartet from the Netherlands now re-sets the 'gold standard' for the Zemlinsky quartets. There has hardly been a plethora of Zemlinsky quartet intégrales. However we can cast our minds back to the 1970s when DG's Lasalle Quartet recordings opened the cultural world's ears to this neglected voice. Since then there have been the excellent Nimbus recordings which may still be findable but which technically are deleted. I was reasonably sure that the Lasalle set had been re-issued on CD but you will probably have to search pretty hard to find this.

I am not familiar with the Lasalle's or the Nimbus recordings except by reputation so my review must be read for what it is: an interested music-lover's first reaction to unfamiliar music.

Zemlinsky was born in Vienna. He threw himself into various Ďcampsí and did so as the fancy took him. There are as many early Brahmsian works as there are Wagnerian ones such as the first opera, Sarema.

The First Quartet synthesises Bohemian, Brahmsian and Beethovenian influences. It is a most lovely, bright and energetic work of the late nineteenth century: fresh-faced, dreamy, rhapsodic and rosily optimistic. Rather like a counterpart to DvořŠk's American Quartet and Symphony No. 8 it feels consummately skilled and relaxed.

Only two years later he wrote a work that begins to declare his liberation from the language of the nineteenth century. The Dehmel song is for soprano and string sextet. The style is now impressionistic, saturated, lucidly calculated and refulgent. This is a work anticipatory of the coming century. The style is in keeping with early Sorabji, van Dieren and of the profligately dense lyricism of Joseph Marx's Natur-Trilogie.

Liberation is unalloyed in the Second Quartet which was started one year before the Great War started and finished one year after hostilities had opened. It is a work of emotional maturity, complex, not lacking in common qualities of speech, accessible and goaded. The commonality with Bernard van Dieren and with the string writing in Warlock's Curlew-Yeats cycle is plain to hear. Surely both composers must have known this piece. The penultimate movement is marked schnell - an eldritch and expressionistic ghoulish ride. You can almost feel the Arthur Rackham-style branches reaching out to you with their skeletal fingers. The fourteen minute finale has plenty to hold the ear and mind though its construction struck me as loose. What an imagination Zemlinsky had! That final long held hollow high note for the solo violin is a master-stroke.

The second disc takes us into the inter-war period with two works from the 1920s and the final quartet-suite from the beginning of the Nazi era. The Third Quartet pushes the boat out further into the modernistic ocean and rustles, creeps, skitters and creaks with the full panoply Schoenbergian method. The Romanze turns back (or more accurately looks back) to more overtly lyrical material - nearer to the spirit of the Second Quartet and reminded me of one of my recent listening experiences: Benjamin Frankel's String Quartets 4 and 5. The finale is also easier to assimilate with its chatter and chug it reminded me of the visceral rhythmic life of the E.J. Moeran Quartets with which it is contemporaneous.

The Two Movements are part of a projected six-part work that only evolved as far as these two sections. The first of the two was designed as a greeting to friends in the USA and sports with the Yankee Doodle theme. The adagio misterioso is extremely thorny.

The second movement of the Fourth Quartet (a suite in six movements) has some similarities with the witch-flight schnell movement of the Second Quartet. The little adagietto sings a sorrowing downbeat song - very briefly too - at only 2.52. The Thema mit Variationen has some enchantingly imagined moments including, in one variation mosaic, an enchanting 'slide' like the 'instrumental' slides in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream music.

This set marks a signal note on which the Schoenberg Quartet celebrate their quarter century. I have not heard the quartetís Chandos set (5CDs - CHAN 9939(5)) of the Arnold Schoenberg chamber music but on this evidence it is something I would want to review.

A pity about the double-width CD case. Such a shame that a single width container could not have been used.

The notes are by Zemlinsky expert and biographer Adrian Beaumont who has recorded the Symphony in B flat (1897), the Prelude to Es War Einmal (1899) and the very late Sinfonietta (1934) with the Czech PO on NIMBUS NI 5682.

As far as I am aware this is the premiere recording of Maiblumen and the Two Movements.

This is a set of princely accomplishment and sovereign presentation as is wholly typical of Chandos in my experience. There are seven portraits of Zemlinsky from callow teenager to haggard old age. No corners are cut and the performances and recordings are the most compelling evidence of both loving attention and perceptive artistic and technical choices.
Rob Barnett


NOTES

see also
www.schoenbergquartet.nl
further information from: info@schoenbergquartet.nl


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