Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
Complete string quartets
CD 1
String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4 (1897) [26:35]
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 15 (1914) [38:45]
CD 2
String Quartet No. 3, Op. 19 (1924) [22:22]
String Quartet No. 4 (Suite), Op. 25 (1936) [23:53]
Hans Erich APOSTEL (1901-1972)
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7 (1935) [25:09]
LaSalle Quartet (Walter Levin (violin I); Henry W Meyer (violin II); Peter Kamnitzer (viola); Jack Kirstein (cello))
rec. 5-10 December 1980, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg. ADD

BRILLIANT CLASSICS 9188 2 CD [65:43 + 71:53]
Brilliant have done well by Zemlinsky with entries for his lieder and Lyric Symphony all from the DG treasury as indeed is this set. The would do well to license the complete Conlon Zemlinsky from EMI and the complete operas from Capriccio. They would make two invaluable offerings in a market not spoilt for Zemlinsky options.
The competition for the set in hand is from two separately available discs from Nimbus and a Chandos box from 2002. The LaSalle were a byword for elite playing in the 1970s and 1980s and this analogue cycle was feted on its first appearance as was their 1970s Schoenberg box for DGG. It still sounds superb – very forwardly positioned with the microphones in the midst of the life of the quartet sound rather than back in the hall. Nimbus and Chandos have a less close-up immediate balance. Early Zemlinsky has a language akin to that of Brahms and mature Dvorák; do not expect voluptuous expressionism from the First Quartet. It is given a vivid outing all the same. That said the LaSalle seem much more at home with the Second Quartet which evinces music in a style more subtly nuanced. Dissonance suggestive of fury is admitted as is torment – each in equal measure. Even the repose of the Moderato is clouded, uncertain and the Schnell (which seems slow to me) is a skeletal wintry chase. The finale is emotionally and texturally dense though there is some remission in the Langsam but this is not the rest that comes with assured confidence. There are always riders and qualifications, joys are taken brusquely and affection is always embattled. The haloed peace of the final segment seems won from exhaustion and sleep rather than waking contentment. The Third Quartet is muscular but without the torrid passions of earlier works. It is jaunty, emotionally cool, not short on energy. Once again that super-close recording takes you right into the playing experience. The last quartet was intended as a memorial to Alban Berg and is impressively weighted with grey skies and a sustained down-beat. Even the breathtakingly impressive hailstone furies of the Burlesque is unremitting in its abnegation of joy. The playing here is again magnificent.
The Apostel quartets have been recorded complete by Cybele but here as a taster for that 3 CD set is the intense 12-tone First. The music of Hans Erich Apostel has not caught on – at least not yet. It is in this case much more dissonantly Schoenbergian than even the Zemlinsky 2. Like the Zemlinsky 4 it was written as a tribute to Berg. If you like the Burlesque of the Zemlinsky 4 you will find plenty to like in the Apostel’s Presto. Apostel also wrote a Second Quartet op. 26 dating from 1956. The set is rounded out with a compact essay by Erik Levi.
Rob Barnett
Magnificent playing recorded with unflinching proximity.