two Szymanowski quartets are not easy to programme. When the
Camerata Quartet did so on Dux 0366 they added
nothing else and their disc lasts thirty-five minutes, making
recommendation difficult. The Schoenberg Quartet on Chandos
CHAN 10405 took a more sensible route and added both Janáček
Quartets. Whereas the Goldner on Naxos 8554315 took the very much less expected option of adding
Stravinsky – the Concertino, Three Pieces and Double Canon.
Whichever road you go down you need to combine secure technical
address with a wide range of tone colours and an incisive understanding
of Szymanowski’s heady idiom. Half measure in this repertoire
is not really an option.
The Royal String Quartet, all Polish, fortunately dig in with
considerable panache and lucid strength. I think it’s fair to
say that they tend to eclipse their rivals by virtue of the
greater finesse and fluency they evoke. In the First Quartet
for example they prove technically stronger than the Schoenberg
and Goldner groups. They are also more veiled and transformative
than the Camerata, whose faster tempi nevertheless offer a different
and valid gloss on the music. If you prefer a blunt spoken,
forceful Szymanowski the Camerata is certainly the foursome
for you, recorded in a ‘cathedral’ style acoustic as well. But
I think most would prefer the warmer Hyperion sound and the
sense of coagulatory eroticism the Royals extract, the plangent
lyricism of the central movement – and its final insistent cello
line, and especially the Burlesca finale with its unison attaca
and pizzicato vitality.
In the Second Quartet the Royal’s sense of colour and texture
pays rich dividends. Vitality is matched by a sure concern for
the terrain of the music making, for its erotic ebbs and falls,
and for its more barbaric enclosures. In this the extra time
they expend, certainly in relation to the Camerata, is part
of a pattern of music making that ensures that the folkloric
elements are sinuously foregrounded. They’re especially successful
in the finale of the Second, which is not taken too quickly
– and certainly not too slowly – but allows both the torpid
repose and the more galvanic eruptions of the music to generate
a natural momentum.
The Royal Quartet has chosen to include the
1915-16 Quartet of Ludomir Różycki (1884-1953).
It’s couched in a very much more conventional and ‘approachable’
form. Crudely speaking, take Debussy and Suk and shake them
together and that’s something like the result of this three
movement, near thirty-three minute work; that’s to say it’s
getting on for as long as both Szymanowski quartets put together.
It’s fluidly constructed though, warmly textured and reaches
an apex of languid impressionism in the central slow movement.
I took most to the pizzicato-laced finale where the folk-saturated
joie de vivre is unmistakeable. It’s a minor work, certainly,
but despite the Parisian cloth worth an occasional hearing.
This is now a strong front-runner in the current Szymanowski
by Rob Barnett