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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
String Quartet No. 1 (1966) [16.02]
String Quartet No. 3 (1983) [18.18]
String Quartet No. 4 (1989) [36.11]
Canon in Memory of Igor Stravinsky (1971) [4.28]
Kapralova Quartet
rec. Prague Spring live, 24 and 31 May 2002, Church of St Simon and St Jude, Prague. DDD
ARCO DIVA UP 0054-2 131 [75.28]


Perspective, perspective. Hearing these four works gives the listener just that. The contrast between the Third Quartet and the other works is brutal.

We start however with the unrepentant and unrelieved avant-garderie of Schnittke's 1966 First Quartet written at the suggestion of Rostislav Dubinsky. Unlike the Kubin first quartet (also on Arco Diva review) this is rigorously serial and while no doubt ingenious in construction its passionate discordant sighs and plunk-plinks bring little reward to the generalist listener. The party apparatus condemned the work as anti-Soviet which in some quarters these days should per se guarantee it plenty of exposure.

The Third Quartet is more approachable with its use of the harmonic adventures of di Lasso and Gesualdo in the two outer movements and Beethoven in the central agitato. Shostakovich's brimming ratcheted tension is evident in the finale alongside the di Lasso. While it becomes more expressively abstruse in the finale the ideas are connected and a sense of narrative flow exists even if it does end in exhausted negation.

The Fourth Quartet was written following the composer's emergence from a series of strokes. It is his longest quartet at approaching 37 minutes and was completed a month or so before his departure from Moscow to Hamburg where he spent his last years eventually in complete paralysis. It is a fairly bleak piece of writing as may be expected. While it avoids the discontinuity of the First Quartet it remains a radical mix that will suit only the hardiest of musical travellers. The longest movement is the last.

Also uncompromising and much closer to the First Quartet is the Stravinsky Canon with its long-held notes, note-slaloms and quiet dynamics throughout.

The all-female Kapralova Quartet, who have by the way recorded their namesake's quartet, engage urgently and with convincing technical command with Schnittke's demanding creativity. The recording is exemplary. The notes are well done - very helpful in preparing this review.

Rob Barnett

 

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