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
ESTONIAN RECORD PRODUCTION ERP 5912 [68:54]
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.
Prezioso's first disc is a splendid calling card while offering a most attractive