This perceptively programmed disc was recorded nearly two decades
ago, and the performances stand up very well. All three works
were composed within a year of each other. It wasn’t then common
to seek out Ervin Schulhoff’s quartet, a work that only gains
in (relative) popularity and stature, but the Brandis, whom
one might assume would be too ‘whipped cream’ for it, prove
one wrong at every turn. This is a more than respectable reading;
it is committed and astutely played. The Brandis is predictably
tonally warmer than, say, the eponymous Schulhoff Quartet [VMS
138] but they take care not to overdo the vibrato and attacks
are brisk, sharply edged and spontaneous sounding. They certainly
catch the eerie quality inherent in the music, not least in
the malinconia grotesca that is the second movement Allegretto.
The Slovak folkloric drones are well pointed in the third movement,
as are the off-beat taps on the bodies of the fiddles to simulate
percussion. I suppose it’s the finale that will divide opinion.
The Brandis takes it slowly, an Adagio that is fully molto
sostenuto, as marked, though many will prefer the wirier,
more bracing tempo solution of the Schulhoff.
Weill’s 1923 Quartet is equally well played, the warmly textured
con molta espressione of the opening movement ideally
realised, without ever allowing the music’s tension to sag.
The droll little march that functions as the Scherzo is finely
etched and there’s a powerful control of counterpoint in the
finale with its Schreker influences, and an especially rapt
close. Hindemith’s Op.22 Quartet has been revised from No.3
to No.4 in the canon but there’s often confusion, as here. The
five movements are compact, and impressively characterised,
not least the abrupt changes of mood that signal Hindemith’s
mastery of the genre. The abrasive, martial second movement
even prefigures similar movements in Shostakovich. Not unlike
the Schulhoff, there are certainly other approaches. The old
Hollywood Quartet recording certainly took a rather different
series of tempo and expressive decisions — which means, on the
whole, faster in the fast movements and slower in the slow ones.
Theirs is a valid approach, and coupled with their tonal warmth,
means that their recording, which is on Testament, will continue
to win admirers.
The Brandis’s survey though is a wholly recommendable one, alert,
and poised, and stylistically apt. The recording is a touch
billowy for my tastes, but there’s a great deal to like about