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
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.