It's fascinating and instructive to compare these two performances, one made
in 1965 by the Quartetto Italiano, an established great among quartets,
the other much more recently (though the exact date is not given) by a relative
newcomer, the New Zealand Quartet.
If you are looking for this particular coupling, then you won't go far wrong
with either of these recordings. Of course, the competition is fierce (for
example, EMI have recently reissued the wonderful Alban Berg Quartet's
version of the two works
review), but these
are both fine performances beautifully captured. I was hearing the New
Zealand Quartet for the first time on disc, and was struck by their clean,
forthright sound, and by their secure and flexible ensemble. All four members
have strong musical personalities, an essential factor in these works where
the spotlight moves so freely around the four instruments.
If I ultimately would go for the Italiano, it's because there is that
touch of greater intimacy, a sense of comfort with the music that comes with
having lived with it, and with each other, for many years. No complacency
here, though; the Italians play the music with the required passion, and
all the gorgeous colours of the music are brought out irresistibly. Take
for example the scherzo of the Ravel, with its twanging pizzicato; the Italians
get just a shade more clarity in the details so that the music seethes with
inner energy. The little off-beat accents that abound are all given just
enough prominence, and the sharp dynamic changes are as startling as they
should be. The slow movement of the Ravel, that amazing moonlit scene, is
again well done by the New Zealanders, but the Italians manage to get even
further inside the magic of the music. The playing of their viola, Piero
Farulli, is very special here.
The Philips recording is a transfer from LP, and it has been accomplished
superbly. There are one or two slightly clumsy edits, but of course that's
not the fault of the transfer. The recording is quite close up, which makes
it, strictly speaking, less 'natural' than the Atoll, which preserves more
of an audience perspective. However, in these sensual and sensuous works,
that feeling of being inside the quartet and so close to the beautiful sounds
these players make was, for me, a real plus.
The Quartetto Italiano, then, bring to these works a subtlety and
an idiomatic quality which is seductive and unfailingly stylish. But I did
enjoy the freshness and energy of the New Zealand Quartet - they are
a group well worth listening to.
See also review of the NZSQ disc
by Simon Foster
In case of difficulty available from Atoll ltd, PO Box 99039, Newmarket,
Auckland, New Zealand.
email@example.com - fax +64
9 529 9207