Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
String Quartet no.3 (1983) [20:01]
String Quartet no.1 (1966) [18:45]
String Quartet no.2 (1980) [21:29]
String Quartet no.4 (1989) [38:07]
Canon in Memoriam Igor Stravinsky, for string quartet (1971) [4:58]
Molinari Quartet (Olga Ranzenhofer (violin); Frédéric Bednarz
(violin); Frédéric Lambert (viola); Pierre-Alain Bouvrette (cello))
rec. Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, Quebec, June 2010. DDD
ATMA ACD2 2634 [60:15 + 43:55]
There have been surprisingly few recordings of Schnittke's four String Quartets.
A decade ago the Kapralova Quartet - they do not bother with diacritics - recorded
this very same programme, Canon and all, but omitting the Second Quartet to
squeeze it all onto a single disc (review).
In the late Nineties the Kronos Quartet had released their complete Schnittke
Quartets, not without hoopla, on Nonesuch (79500). Nearly a decade before that
the Swedish Tale Quartet had released their account of the Quartets on BIS (CD-467),
but at that time the ink was still wet on Schnittke's Fourth. Apart from that,
the Canadian Molinari Quartet's
competition lies in various recordings of individual works, most notably of
the Fourth by the Alban Berg Quartet - for whom it was written and who gave
the world premiere: see review
of their triple-disc '20th Century Masterpieces' collection.
The Tale, Kronos and Kapralova all have their own strengths and particularities,
but all are knocked into a cocked hat, broadly speaking, by these readings by
the Molinari Quartet. It was founded by violinist and sole surviving founder
member Olga Ranzenhofer in 1997, and named after the Canadian abstract painter
Guido Molinari, who before his death in 2004 even 'designed' a logo for the
Quartet - a small square divided into blue, yellow, red and green quarters.
Additionally one of the sharpest-dressing quartets in North America, the Molinaris
might be forgiven for using the post-modern ploy of attempting to conceal musical
inadequacies behind a puffed-up image. In fact, they have no need to do so,
because their musicianship is as exclusive and discerning as their tailor. Nevertheless,
though at times as physical as any, their vision of Schnittke is more lyrically
expressive, emotionally intense but more introverted, altogether less typically
'primeval' than most others.
The Molinaris begin their recital with the Third Quartet, presumably on the
grounds that it is a little more 'popular', which is to say accessible. The
semi-neo-Classical Third should provide considerable enjoyment for anyone comfortable
with the quartets of Shostakovich or Martinů. However, it is fair to say
that nearly all this music reflects Schnittke the modernist - acrid chromaticism,
atonality, serialism, pointillism are all present - meaning that there is little
here to appeal to those with mainstream-inclined tastes. Yet these are not by
any means screech 'n' drone works: Schnittke's Quartets occupy an important
place in late 20th century repertoire and an initial familiarisation with the
Third could well give the majority of listeners painless access to the other
three, from no.2 via no.4 to no.1.
The Molinaris’ repertory is large, but entirely made up of 20th and 21st
century works, beginning with Bartók and Schoenberg. Their first disc
for ATMA was Canadian composer R Murray Schafer's first seven Quartets (ACD2
2188-89), hardly a straightforward listen - or play. Schafer went on to act
as judge in the roughly triennial Molinari Quartet International Competition
for Composition, which has received 600-plus new quartet scores in its first
decade - an astoundingly impressive achievement. Winners of the first three
Competitions have had their works recorded by the Quartet and released on ATMA
(ACD2 2286, ACD2 2323, ACD2 2368).
Sound quality is very good - well-balanced and warm. The CD booklet, which waverers
can download for free here,
is neat and clean. Irène Brisson's notes on the works are informative
and well written, not to mention well translated. The inside track-listing gives
the date of the Fourth Quartet erroneously as 1983, but this is corrected elsewhere.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Schnittke the modernist - acrid chromaticism, atonality, serialism, pointillism
- little here to appeal to those with mainstream-inclined tastes.