Ervin SCHULHOFF (1894-1942)
String Quartet No.1 (1924) [15:41]
Kurt WEILL (1900-1950)
String Quartet (1923) [18:09]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
String Quartet Op.22 (1923) [26:03]
Brandis Quartet (Wolfgang Boettcher (violin I); Thomas Brandis (violin II); Wilfred Strehle (viola); Peter Brem (cello))
rec. October 1992, Concert Hall, Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys
NIMBUS NI 5410 [60:24]
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 these performances.
Jonathan Woolf
There’s a great deal to like about these performances.