The Philharmonia Quartet, Berlin was co-founded in 1984 by Daniel
Stabrawa principal concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
(BPO) together with three string section leaders. There are some
exceptional string quartets playing today such as the: Emerson,
Henschel, Talich and Takács. The Philharmonia Quartet,
whose members we should remember do not perform exclusively as
a quartet, are certainly close to that elevated league.
Concertmaster of the BPO since 1979, Polish-born Stabrawa also
appears as a soloist. Since the mid-1990s he has directed the
Capella Bydgostiensis, Bydgoszcz - the chamber orchestra of the
Pomeranian Philharmonic. Christian Stadelmann was born in Berlin
and joined the BPO in 1985 becoming leader of the second violins
two years later. He studied at the Berlin Hochschule der Künste
with Thomas Brandis a former concertmaster of the BPO and founder
of the Brandis Quartet.
A BPO member since 1978 the first principal viola Neithard Resa
also hails from Berlin. A past student of Daniel Stabrawa, Resa
joined the Quartet in 1985. Cellist Jan Diesselhorst was born
in the German city of Marburg becoming a member of the BPO in
1977. Diesselhorst joined the quartet in 1985 but sadly died
in February 2009 shortly after the making of this recording.
This Thorofon recording is dedicated to his memory.
In the 1842 Schumann turned his attention away from lieder
chamber music. Following his marriage to Clara Wieck and still
in his early thirties this was an extremely fertile period of
creativity for Schumann and the enduringly popular Piano Quintet
in E flat major
, Op. 44 is the certainly best known of the
resulting works. Schumann’s Op. 41 string quartets were
written close together in a matter of months and I have read
that Schumann completed all of them by the July. A year later
they were published with his friend Felix Mendelssohn the dedicatee.
deserve to be better known than their place at the
margins of the chamber repertoire. Probably the same could be
said of Brahms’s pair of string quartets. Joan Chissell
, ed. Alec Robertson, Penguin
wrote of the Schumann quartets, “Today, however, these
works are rarely played, and in the first of the three the explanation
would seem to lie in the composer’s calculated preoccupation
with craftsmanship at the expense of those spontaneous ‘revellings
in strangeness’ which to twentieth-century audience ears
are amongst the youthful Schumann’s most endearing characteristics
Thankfully several excellent releases in the last decade or so
have sparked off a re-assessment and have revealed the quartets’ undoubted
worth to a wider audience. Most notably the Zehetmair Quartet
led by Thomas Zehetmair made a wonderfully dramatic and exciting
recording of the first and third quartets on ECM New Series 1793.
The players who play these scores from memory were recorded in
2001 at Zurich and the disc was the recipient of several prestigious
awards. I admire the refined and expressive period-instrument
accounts from the Eroica Quartet, recorded in 1999 at the Skywalker
studio in Marin County, California on Harmonia Mundi HMU 907270.
The Eroica release includes Schumann’s initial thoughts
on his F minor Quartet
as shown on the manuscripts held
at the Heinrich Heine Institute, Dusseldorf. Also worthy of consideration
is the appealing and stylishly performed release by the Fine
Arts Quartet. Recorded in 2006 at the Wittem Monastery, Gulpen-Wittem,
Holland the disc is on Naxos 8.570151.
In Schumann’s String Quartet No. 1
play the opening movement with tender expression yet never allow
their emotions to take complete charge. Although closely controlled
the Scherzo, Adagio
evinces significant vitality and galloping
rhythms. The contrasting central section is a yearning plea from
the heart. Emotions of poignancy and intense sorrow permeate
whilst the players never resort to sentimentality.
This is quite wonderful playing of the slow movement from the
Philharmonia. I loved the bright and upbeat Presto
just hurtles along seemingly without a care in the world.
Seemingly the Cinderella quartet and the least recorded of the
set the String Quartet No. 2
warrants wider attention.
The first movement Allegro vivace
is a veritable fusion
of joy and tenderness marked by quite superb playing from the
Berlin players. Crafted from a lighter grain the music just floats
along effortlessly. In the Andante, quasi Variazioni
playing seethes with heartbreaking sadness. I enjoyed the swirling
and dance-like Scherzo -
so vigorous, fresh and agreeable.
The concluding Allegro molto vivace
reveals the ebullient
side of Schumann, light and bursting with summer sunshine. Towards
the close the pace notably quickens with a happy assurance.
The String Quartet No. 3
is the most popular of the set
of three. Marked Andante expressive
- Allegro molto
the moody opening evokes heartfelt calling and pleading.
A volatile Scherzo
of broad emotional extremes shifts
from calm and peaceful musings to petulant and stormy outbursts.
Grey clouds suffuse the Adagio molto
. This is sad and
affecting music - almost a lament with undercurrents of anxiety.
Optimism asserts itself in the Finale, Allegro molto vivace
I was struck by the spirited playing from the Philharmonia Quartet
being especially bright, uplifting and rock solid.
These are memorable performances. Listening to the various recordings
the differing interpretive approaches are evident. Eschewing
extreme dynamics and exaggerated tempi
take a route of prudent self-discipline with judiciously selected
speeds. Their interpretations exude tenderness tinged with melancholy
in the slow movements and express potent vitality in the Scherzos
never being in fear of losing control. Throughout, the unity
of the Philharmonia Quartet is quite outstanding and deserves
praise. The engineers have provided a sound quality that is clear
and extremely well balanced. The accompanying booklet includes
an informative and easy to read essay.
I have seen all four players performing in their respective posts
with the Berlin Philharmonic at their Philharmonie home but not
together as the Philharmonia Quartet. As a devotee of live chamber
music I hope it is not too long before I attend a Philharmonia