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Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
String Quartet No. 2 Op. 15 (1913-14) [39.30]
String Quartet No. 3 Op. 19 (1924) [24.05]
Kocian Quartet (Pavel Hoüla, Miloš Černý (violin); Zbyněk Padourek (viola); Václav Bernášek (cello))
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 1 Sept 1995 (3); 18-19 Jan 2003 (2) DDD
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD 250 193 [63.48]


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The Great War and nine fateful years divide these two works from each other.

The Second Quartet was started by Zemlinsky in 1913 and was completed one year after hostilities had begun. It is of considerable length - not prolix - but certainly expansive and confident. Zemlinsky feels no need for earlier models. Complex drapes of expressionistic music unfold with an easy drawl. The music is reminiscent of that of Bernard van Dieren and of the string writing in Peter Warlock's Curlew-Yeats cycle are plain to hear. Maybe it is just that I have heard the piece more often but the long finale seemed to cohere more effectively with the Kocians than the Schoenberg Quartet on Chandos. On the downside the Kocians have wirier violin sound than the Schoenbergs.

The Second had to wait until the year of completion of the Third Quartet before its premiere by the Rosé Quartet in Vienna. However it was the Buxbaum and not the Rosé who premiered the Third in Vienna on 26 October 1924. It is more succinct and its method and surface are uncompromisingly modernistic. The Theme and Variations second movement is at times tirelessly Webernian. The Romanza is more overtly lyrical although the way is, metaphorically speaking, still strewn with lichen and dotted with stagnant pools. The Burleske finale chatters and chugs - full rhythmic interest.

In 1924 Zemlinsky had only another fourteen years to go before the Nazi ascendancy forced his flight to the USA. He stayed until pushed, leaving in 1938, very late in the day. The USA was not the Utopia he might have hoped. He died in destitution with his music (fifty or so works) only regaining the light from 1978 onwards.

The Chandos set will suit you if you want the complete Zemlinsky works for quartet. If you would like a sampling then now that the individual Nimbus CDs are out of the catalogue this is the disc to go for.

The Third Quartet has been issued before in 1996 on Praga PR 250 092.

These are two imaginative Viennese quartets from either side of the Great War; one expressionistic and full of decadent colour (a superbly sustained and magical finale) ; the other beholden to Schoenbergian method.

Rob Barnett



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