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Hans PFITZNER (1869-1949)
String Quartet No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 36 (1925) [33'57].
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 37 (1936) [33'12].
Wihan String Quartet (Leos Cepicky, Jan Schulmeister, violins; Jirí Zigmund, viola; Ales Kasprík, cello).
rec. 3-4 (Pfitzner), 7, 20 (Schoenberg) April 2000. DDD
ARCO DIVA UP 0028-2 [67:20]
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An inspired coupling from Arco Diva.

The Pfitzner is an impressive work. Its first movement is highly expressive and includes some distinctly Schoenbergian gestures; try around 4'40. The young Wihan Quartet employs exquisite shading during the course of the music's expressive wanderings. The music tapers to nothing before the energetic Scherzo ('Sehr Schnell') bursts upon the scene. The Wihan play this beautifully, the music shifting unpredictably. Perhaps the ostinati could be more frenetic - there should be a late-Beethovenian edge here - but the cheeky end almost compensates.

The slow movement ('Langsam, ausdruckvoll') includes moments of rare repose, blessed with cantabile lines dispatched with real tendresse by the players. This is truly interior music that threatens to run and run, so it comes as something of a surprise that the third movement's timing is only 6'20. A strummed accompaniment to a soloist's melody comes as a nice textural touch before the emotionally wide-ranging finale comes into play.

Interesting that the Second Quartet dates from what the booklet notes call a 'lean period' - apart from some songs, there is not much else from the 1920s - as the music seems almost shamelessly fertile. Those who know this work from the CPO performance (999 526-2) may still want to hear this fresh, enthusiastic and well recorded account, particularly in the light of the coupling, Schoenberg's Fourth Quartet.

Of course with this Schoenberg work the competitive field really opens out. For the complete Schoenberg Quartets, perhaps one should consider the New Vienna Quartet (with Evelyn Lear) on a Philips twofer, 464 046-2; but in the case of the Fourth one really should also hear the Arditti Quartet (on Auvidis, possibly currently deleted), the Kolisch (1936), and the LaSalle Quartets.

The complexity of the musical surface of the first movement is astonishing, yet it never overwhelms the Wihan Quartet. This was Schoenberg's first twelve-note work of his American period and it is a masterpiece and there's a word I don't use lightly. The compositional assurance is astonishing, as are the demands made upon the performers. Luckily the Wihan Quartet has all of the chameleon qualities required for this music. The players seem to relish the rapid exchanges of the Comodo second movement just as much as they do the deeper interpretational challenges of the Largo, where control is all. But it is the palpable angst of the finale that impresses the most.

The recording is a fine one - no venue is listed, although it is nice to know we are in the safe hands of Producer Jaroslav Rybar. Apparently the Wihan is the Quartet in Residence at the University of Cranfield - a UK university, made up entirely of postgrads, located near Bedford. Worth a trip, on this evidence.

Colin Clarke

Arco Diva Catalogue


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