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Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
String Quartet Op.25 (1918) [19:16]
String Quartet No.2 (1925) [30:09]
Schulhoff Quartet
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, May 2005 (No.2) and March 2006 (Op.25)
VMS 180 [49:51]

This is the second volume in VMS’s survey of Schulhoff’s music for string quartet; the earlier was on VMS 138 (see review). I was impressed by the performances given by the eponymous quartet and can find no reason here to modify that view. The Schulhoff Quartet has been taking this survey slowly and unlike many a quartet hasn’t gone hell for leather for complete surveys. Their earlier recordings were made in 2003 and in 2004. Here they reprise this clear aim. The Second Quartet was taped in Prague in May 2005; the earlier Op.25 Quartet followed nearly a year later. Fortunately all their recordings have been made in the Domovina Studios.

The Second Quartet was written fast in 1925. It bears the kind of folkloric influences one would expect at this time – Bartók principally and also Janáček. Compression is the name of the game in the fast movements, contrasting strongly with the more extended slow ones. The folkloric intensity is energised by the cello’s bass lines, the rhythm is springy and also at moments we find the harmonies flecked with late impressionism – though not enough to unsettle the consonance of the musical argument. The second movement has a Theme and variations dramatically animated by beer-hall pizzicato thwacking – all the while Schulhoff’s more syncopated instincts are peeping through. He reprises this device in the scherzo – he calls it an Allegro gajo – which is a pizzicato-laced Bohemian dance inseminated by Bartók’s fertile seed. The earthy finale has enough gritty unison figures and soliloquies to hold interest.

The earlier Op.25 quartet is really a student work. The last person it sounds like is Schulhoff; updated Mozart, maybe. It’s on a far bigger scale than the more compact, mature quartet, and only really sheds light on the composer’s developmental leanings at the relatively late age of twenty-four. There is something Wagnerian about the slow movement it’s true (if somewhat generic) but the Menuett is a decidedly rococo homage spiced with slightly mordant harmonies. The rondo finale is similarly inclined as to stylistic matters though it at least reveals some enthusiasm for the folkloric hues that so enriched Schulhoff’s writing later on in the 1920s. Otherwise it’s a work of surprising blandness and lack of invention.

These quartets have rather less meat on their bones than the works in the first volume but admirers of the composer’s chamber music will find these once more committed and thoroughly idiomatic performances very much to their liking. With first class Domovina sound adherents should not hesitate.

Jonathan Woolf



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