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Erwin SCHULHOFF (1894 - 1942)
Five Pieces for String Quartet (1924) [13:12]
Anton WEBERN (1883 - 1945)
Langsamer Satz (1905) [8:59]
Jaan RÄÄTS (b. 1932)
Concerto for Chamber Orchestra Op.16 (1961, arr. Mihkel Kerem) [14:36]
Pēteris VASKS (b. 1946)
String Quartet No.4 (2000) [31:50]
Prezioso String Quartet
rec. Estonia Concert hall, Tallinn, October 2011 and January 2012

Experience Classicsonline

Schulhoff was a prolific and versatile musician equally at ease in jazzy works as well as in quite more serious ones throughout his all-too-short composing life that was cut off abruptly in Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria. He was also a fine pianist who composed a good deal for his instrument. Incidentally, it was he who gave the first performance of Elizabeth Maconchy's Piano Concertino just before the outbreak of World War II. He composed five works for string quartet including two substantial and fairly advanced string quartets, a Divertimento for string quartet and the Five Pieces for String Quartet that are probably among his best known and most popular pieces, and quite deservedly so, I would say, for this delightful piece is attractive, full of surprises and of unexpected twists and turns. Above all, there is a mild sense of irony, too, that makes this short work irresistible. 

Webern's Langsamer Satz of 1905 is probably the best known among his early works, were it only because it has been frequently recorded. The music may still be a far cry from what the mature Webern was to do but the composer succeeded in writing unusually lyrical music though held under strict control so that the music already manages to achieve some personal utterance without falling back on early models inherited, say, from Brahms. 

Jaan Rääts' Concerto for Chamber Orchestra Op.16 was composed in 1961. It is a very attractive work which is heard here in a deftly made arrangement for string quartet by Mihkel Kerem. I must admit that I had never heard the piece before either in its original scoring or its version for string quartet, so that I approached it unprejudiced. The piece is in five compact movements, more or less connected in pairs whereas the final one recapitulates material from the preceding movements. The music is full of energy, light hearted and unambiguous, going straight to the point without any undue fuss. I must suppose that the version for string quartet faithfully reflects the original and has probably got the composer's approval. Anyway, I enjoyed it enormously and I look forward to hearing it in its original guise as well as other works by Rääts. 

Pēteris Vasks' Fourth String Quartet is no stranger to the catalogue since it has been recorded by the Kronos Quartet that commissioned it and gave the first performance. It is an substantial work from the composer's mature years and, as such, it displays a number of characteristics that one has now come to regard as Vasks fingerprints, a.o. allusion to or borrowing from folk songs, bird songs (mostly stylised) and the like that often tend to reflect on what life has been in Latvia during the Soviet era. Vasks' music is often tense and troubled building to shattering climaxes although it allows for quieter, more reflective moments of great beauty that some might think redolent of Pärt, but I for one am not convinced by this rather too superficial judgement. Vasks' slow music has none of Pärt's Minimalism and possesses some obsessive tension often absent in Pärt's music. I of course admit that others may disagree. Anyway, Vasks' Fourth String Quartet is one of his finest achievements along some of his works for strings and his symphonies. All these works are deeply felt and honest and obviously expressing intimate and strongly personal feelings.
The Prezioso String Quartet was launched in 2006 by four young Estonian string players, all graduates from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. All four members are currently playing in the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. This is their first disc ever and the varied programme undoubtedly convey a fair idea both of their technique and of their musicality. Their commitment is unquestionable in the four works that they chose as their “calling card”. I also found it a good idea to choose a fairly unusual programme for their début recording rather than some war horses that would have placed them in severe competition. I believe that they have plenty of time before committing great classical string quartets to disc, the more so that this first disc clearly displays their natural affinity with various aspects of contemporary music. 

So, in short, I most enjoyed both the programme and the convincing and carefully prepared performances by a young ensemble that clearly believes in what it plays. I look forward to hearing more from them soon. 

Hubert Culot