The information given
by Naxos tells us that this disc was
first issued in 1994, courtesy of ‘Ducale’.
Musica Aeterna Bratislava have given
us three discs on Naxos previously:
String Symphonies by Johannes Matthias
Sperger (8.554764) and two discs of
Muffat Concerti grossi (8.555096 and
8.555743). Here the string soloists
of this group present three string quartets
by Anton Zimmermann, a composer active
in Bratislava (the then capital of Hungary)
by the year 1772. The court orchestra
was ‘his’, and he composed many orchestral
works, including symphonies that have
been wrongly attributed to Haydn. Zimmermann
was employed there by the Cardinal and
Hungarian Primate Count Josef Batthyányi
(1727-99), where he was conductor, violinist
and court composer. The string quartets
represent a generally intimate side
of his nature, if these offerings are
anything to go by. At once courtly and
civilised yet expressive in their own
way, there is much here to delight the
ear, especially in such vital performances
a fair amount of chamber music (including
Six Sonatas, Op. 2 and Six Quartets,
Op. 3). It is difficult to date the
Op. 3 Quartets accurately.
Using A=430 Hz, these
original instrument performances from
the Musica Aeterna Soloists seem to
bring with them a sense of fresh discovery.
The sound initially may take a small
amount of acclimatisation (perhaps seeming
on the scratchy side), but once the
ear adjusts there is plenty to admire.
Take the fist quartet on offer, Op.
3 No. 1. There is a gentilité
to the phrasing, and the intrinsic politeness
of the score is fully realised by the
Musica Aeterna Soloists. The slow movement
is remarkably approachable.
All of these quartets
are in five movements (two minuets in
each case, always nicely contrasting).
The Haydn similarity can be plainly
heard in the busy and lively finale
of Op. 3 No. 1.
The second quartet
of Op. 3 is in the relatively infrequently
used key of B major. Beginning with
a grand arpeggiation, it has to be admitted
that it does not sound the requested
Allegretto to begin with (is this the
composer’s joke, embedded in his notation?).
What shines through this performance
is the way in which Musica Aeterna can
shade phrases and grade diminuendi artfully.
That Zimmermann has imagination aplenty
can be heard in the third movement (Adagio),
with its bare, arresting pizzicato opening,
which moves aside to become the accompaniment
for the violin’s eloquent solo line
delivered here by Peter Zajíček).
Interesting that the
third quartet should begin with a set
of variations, although here the level
of inspiration could usefully be compared
with that of a superior undergraduate
effort in pastiche. The final two movements
provide the high points of this quartet,
the almost cock-sure first violin of
the second Menuetto leading to the ‘Allegro
non molto’ finale. By adhering to the
‘non molto’ request, the Musica Aeterna
Soloists are able to give remarkable
life to the inner voices.
A very enjoyable disc.
The music will not stretch the intellect
too far, neither will it move the emotions
to extremes. Rather, this is eminently
well-crafted music, expertly performed
(tuning and ensemble are excellent)
and equally expertly recorded.