Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
String Quartet No.1 (The Kreutzer Sonata) (1923) [17:40]
Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Lyric Suite (1925-6) [28:13]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Langsamer Satz (1905) [8:16]
Cecilia String Quartet (Min-Jeong Koh, Sarah Nematallah (violins), Caitlin Boyle (viola), Rachel Desoer (cello))
rec. Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada, December 2012.
ANALEKTA AN 2 9984 [54:09]
The title of the disc Amoroso derives from the theme of love that gave rise to all three works.
In his later years Janáček’s life and work was dominated by the unrequited love he had for Kamila Stösslová. Love was very much on his mind when he wrote the first of his two string quartets. It was motivated by the Tolstoy novella The Kreutzer Sonata which tells of the brutal domination of a woman by her husband whose jealousy ends with him murdering her. The title comes from the Beethoven sonata that the wife was working on with a violinist with whom her husband suspected she was having an affair rather than a purely musical partnership. The music is unmistakably Czech and unmistakably Janáček; it could be by no other composer since his musical signature is so clearly recognisable. The achingly pleading opening theme represents the wife but the domineering husband is soon characterised by a more powerful and insistent one that takes over the movement. The second with its polka rhythm introduces us to the violinist. Then again there is an interruption by a more aggressive theme sounding like the husband confronting the couple. The third alludes to the Beethoven sonata of the quartet’s subtitle. The final movement recapitulates themes from the previous movements. The pleading and poignant theme from the opening is interspersed with increasingly violent sounds representing the husband’s jealousy. It ends with the wife’s tragic death.
It was as late as 1977 that material was discovered by musicologist George Perle that left no doubt that Alban Berg’s Lyric Suite was to all intents and purposes a miniature wordless opera that had as its motivation a hitherto unknown love story. Berg notated a score with overt references to it and gave it to the woman in question Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, the wife of a Prague industrialist incorporating his own and Hanna’s initials in the heart of all six movements as A-B flat-B natural-F. He wrote on the score “I have secretly inserted our initials into the music. May it be a small monument to a great love.” He also included many other cryptographic and numerological references that were meaningful to the couple and considered it among his most successful works saying that it was “the large unfolding ... of an overall programmatic concept: ‘Subjection to Fate.’”
Once one knows the back-story the titles of each movement become much more significant, entitled as they are: jovial, amorous, mysterious, passionate, delirious and desolate. These together with references to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and to Zemlinsky confirm the overall concept. As the booklet notes quote George Perle as writing “Like anyone who commits a perfect crime Berg was proud of his accomplishment and wanted us to know about it.” The 90 page score unfolds over almost half an hour and the music is as lyrical as the work’s title describes though to some ears it may still sound “modern” despite it having been written nearly ninety years ago.
The final work on the disc Langsamer Satz is by Anton Webern who in 1905, as the notes explain, “was head-over-heels in love with his cousin, Wilhelmina Mörtl.” At the age of 21 love often seems more all-consuming than it does later in life. The diary entries Webern made following a walking holiday he took with her show how enraptured he felt including the phrase ‘two souls had wed’. Wilhelmina did in fact become first his fiancé and later his wife. The music is so very lushly romantic with a degree of natural warmth to it that is almost tangible and with the richest sounds opening the work. Those produced by the lower register of the cello are particularly sumptuous. Though he would leave this romantic sound world well behind it occasioned this line written to his brother-in-law: “Quartet playing is the most glorious music-making there is.” I say three cheers to that!
This is a very fine disc of three heartfelt love inspired works played most beautifully by this young all-female Canadian ensemble.
Played most beautifully by this young all female Canadian ensemble.
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