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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
String Quartet No.4 Op.37 (1936) [31:35]
(Allegro molto; energico [9:34]; Comodo [7:30]; Largo [7:17];
von WEBERN (1883-1945)
Langsamer Satz M78 (1905) [10:59]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lyric Suite (1926) [27:13]
(Allegretto gioviale [3:00]; Andante amorioso [5:52]; Allegro
misterioso [3:08]; Adagio appassionato [5:15]; Presto deltrando
[4:25]; Largo desolato [5:33])
rec. November 2005, March 2006, l’Église de Bonsecours, Paris
TERRITOIRES ZZT070502 [69:47]
is one of the best CDs it has been my privilege to review
for Musicweb. The sheer playing is expert, passionate
and gorgeous. I listened twice through before reading any notes.
found that Quatuor Psophos (‘Psophos’ meaning ‘sonic event’)
is an all-female ensemble based in France but with a German
(by name) and a Japanese musician – the latter, Ayako Tanaka,
seemingly being the leader. As Second Viennese School stuff
is usually played by men I was delighted to have my assumptions
set aside by the sheer beauty of the sound.
CD is a rather odd mixture of very early Webern, the tough
Berg ‘Lyric Suite’ and Schoenberg’s last string quartet,
No.4 in, to tell the truth, the best version I have ever
Webern Langsamer Satz M78 of 1905 is contemporaneous
with his 1905 Quartet but remained an isolated slow movement
of 11 minutes – an absolute age by mature Webern standards
but the man was 21, in blissful surroundings and with his
pretty cousin so the music is modestly romantic and retro.
There are Mahlerian snippets and the insert-note writer Cyril
Béros tries to find mature Webern in the ‘spare’ ending.
However I disagree that it is spare at all. Yes, there is mature
Webern and certainly he found textures in four instruments
which we can hear in his great Opp. 5 and 6 for large orchestras.
Certainly the 1905 fragment isn’t Webern as we know him
but is so well played here that we can see his palette at
is important. He used just four instruments to sound like
suggest that the young Webern set down his passionate love
for first cousin Wilhelmine in this piece. They married in
(she was pregnant) – utterly scandalous as both were
Catholics in Austria. I only mention this because photos
of Webern show a man one doesn’t associate with passion.
Suite of 1926 also has a personal agenda: a love affair
well described by Béros in the insert notes and anyone
can chase hares on the internet. MWI is about music. Here
we have Berg’s six-movement Suite in the most exciting
recording I have heard since the old Kohon Quartet version
hit me in the face as a young man. Most notably, the pacing
of the work by the Psophos from the opening Allegro
gioviale is taken conservatively. The long Andante
amoroso is high voltage passion then the Allegro
misterioso is seductively subtle in a Bartók sort of
way but insistent and completely successful. The Adagio
appassionato is full-on again with stunning support
from the engineers. The strange Presto deltrando is
especially exciting because the mixture of passion and
is well nigh perfect apart from a couple of stray pitches
between the two violins. We are all set up for the final
movement. The Largo desoluto is precisely that but
far more human than in any version I have heard to date.
It sounds as if it were recorded from a live concert but
the insert notes, good as they are, give no details of
the circumstances of recording except as shown in the header.
anyone who loves Berg’s music and how so much of it was centred
on women I can only suggest that you listen to how the Psophos
Quartet seems, to me at least, to go a bit deeper than other
Schoenberg String Quartet No. 4 of 1936 can stand with Bartók
and Beethoven in integrity and use of timbre. The composer
was in mourning for Alban Berg, who had died in 1935 and
he was disturbed by the rise of the Nazis even though he
had taken his family to the USA in 1934 after a brief stay
in Paris in 1933.
he had adopted Lutheranism (basically to get teaching work)
Schoenberg was a Jew and, like Freud, had responsibilities
to pupils who were not Jewish. He took these responsibilities
seriously and left Austria partly to make way for them but
also to protect his family from two marriages after his first
wife died. Having established 12-tone discipline - never
meant to be as strict as some took it - Schoenberg looked
forward to some appreciation in the USA. Unfortunately America
in The Depression had little time for arcane European refugees.
Schoenberg reverted to tonality for a while but Quartet
4 was loaded with personal loyalties. The composer drew in the
strands of his work as
a protégé of Mahler,
so that the quartet is important beyond itself.
This performance of the Schoenberg by the Psophos Quartet is
music at its best. The work is often seen
forbidding, more to be respected than enjoyed, but clearly
the Psophos don't believe that. They open up sounds
heard as clearly in other recordings. An example is a section
of the first movement in which the
first violin and cello almost flirt away from the fairly
conventional structure while the viola and second violin
seem to become a more solid, separate, ensemble before the
high and low wanderers come back in jocular sonic pleasure.
The nine minutes plus of this quasi-scherzo seem to whizz
by but one needs to listen a few times to get the message.
example of Schoenberg getting really good value from expert
musicians is another splitting of forces in the second movement, Comodo.
Here the first violin and viola explore a tonal series in
parallel with a separate but congruent excursion of sonorities
between the second violin and cello. The effect is one of
listening on two levels with the emphasis on sonority as
well as following the brainy stuff. It makes unusual demands
on the second violin - as Bartók often did.
are more treats for the ears in the third movement, Largo,
with almost ‘Debussian’ lyricism for starters then some extreme
banging and crashing in thrilling fireworks rather than anything
sinister. Schoenberg also explores some fabulous harmonics
in this seven minute movement. There’s not a wasted note
but only in the hands of musicians of this standard. And
once again really good DAC is essential.
only minor gripe about this release is in the fourth movement
when a cello pizzicato is a bit soft and maybe should have
been re-recorded. The rest of the movement is full of attack,
accuracy and the finest possible judgement.
the evidence of this CD I should like to hear the Psophos
Quartet in Bartók 3-6 as well as the remaining Schoenberg
general notes by Cyril Béros are very good - French and English
only - but the engineering and production details, in French
only, are a bit chaotic. This is a pity because the production
is sonically of reference quality. We are not even told who
the musicians are. It seems that two personnel changes have
occurred. The monochrome photo on the product shows Ms Tanaka
to have been on this recording but the exact identity of
the cellist is unclear.
Zig-Zag would do well to appreciate that treasure like this
requires better documentation. This is
a must have release.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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