The polarities of the
life of the composer Egon Wellesz are
to be found in Vienna and in Oxford.
That there are these polarities is down
to the rise of Nazism. The Third and
Fourth quartets are products of the
Vienna years. The Sixth belongs to Oxford
written after he had spent almost a
decade in that city.
Wellesz dallies with
12-note technique but despite having
studied with Schoenberg his musical
expression is much freer than superficial
assumptions might indicate.
The Third Quartet
bustles with ideas and styles. The
second movement looks to the airy blossom-laden
sweetness of the Ravel quartet where
the first is more densely intense and
with a much wider embrace of atonality.
The Sehr gedent is openly lyrical
- heavy with a probing and slightly
tense cantilena. A chuckling and largely
unclouded Anmutig bewegt concludes
proceedings with some of the will-o’-the-wisp
caprice of the much later Bliss Violin
The Fourth Quartet
was premiered by the Kolisch in London
in 1922. Here incursions from France
and Hungary are absent. Instead the
work is more completely rooted in the
Second Viennese school. The fourth of
the five movements is spiky and excitingly
These are utterly convincing
performances in resinous sound. Only
those averse to the occasional intake
of the players' breath will find anything
to grumble about.
The Sixth Quartet was
premiered at the Library of Congress
by the Loewenguth Quartet on 12 November
1948. It is a concentrated four movement
work - the shortest of the three here.
The third movement is an affecting rocking-lapping
Andante pressed forward with
There are nine Wellesz
symphonies all tackled by CPO and there
are nine string quartets. The big Third
Quartet dates from the dying throes
of the Great War.
This disc offers three
of the nine quartets. I hope that the
Arttis and Nimbus will record the rest
and will complete the Karl Weigl quartets
begun with numbers 1 and 5 on NI 5646.
After all they have recorded all four
Zemlinskys across NI5563 and NI5604.
The excellent notes
for this issue are by Calum Macdonald
with assistance from Hannes Heher who
also prepared this edition of the Third
Symphonies on CPO: 1,
Concerto; Piano Concerto
– Austrian Symphonist in Britain
by Paul Conway