Schubert sonatas

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Harold SCHIFFMAN (b. 1928)
String Quartet No.1 (1951) [24:05]
String Quartet No.2 (1981) [19:50]
Capriccio (1959) [5:03]
The Auer Quartet
rec. János Richter Hall, Györ, Hungary, October 2004

Schiffman’s String Quartet No.1, completed as early as 1951 and probably one of his first acknowledged pieces, is ambitious if a trifle overlong, in which the young composer is heard ‘flexing his muscles’. It is in three weighty movements of fairly equal length. The composer displays considerable contrapuntal mastery, particularly evident in the first movement Capriccioso that perfectly lives up to its title; a brilliant study in counterpoint, and rather tense harmonically. The second movement is an intense slow movement with a nervous, rather violent central section. The work ends with another lengthy Allegro. This quartet is remarkably assured, full of fine ideas (probably too many), and by no means an apprentice work. Curiously enough, it has never been performed complete until this recording was made. This is difficult to understand because I cannot see anything wrong with it; quite the contrary: this is a really fine work.

The String Quartet No.2 was written thirty years later, and is of course a mature work. The music seems to inhabit the same tense harmonic world as, say, Frank Bridge’s Third and Fourth String Quartets, although it sometimes "sidesteps" into some lighter mood; e.g. the dance-like character of the second movement. The third movement is a reverie of great beauty; some of Schiffman’s finest music to date. The Second Quartet ends with a lively Allegro gioviale. This is a compact work of substance that makes one regret that Schiffman did not write more for the medium.

The short Capriccio was "originally intended as the first movement of a larger work, but [I] decided it was just what its present title suggests, a caprice". (Incidentally, the First String Quartet opens with another Capriccio, although one of a much larger scale.) It is a fine piece and a highly effective encore to any string quartet recital.

These performances recorded under the composer’s supervision are really very fine. They are warmly recorded, a bit too closely for some tastes; but they certainly met with the composer’s approval. My sole regret is the short playing time of this disc. A pity that some other chamber work by Schiffman were not included. Anyway, these are really very fine contemporary, if not modern string quartets that undoubtedly repay repeated hearing.

Hubert Culot




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