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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
String Quartet No. 2 Op. 10 [30:46]
String Quartet No. 4 Op. 37 [33:26]
Gringolts Quartet
Malin Hartelius (soprano)
rec. SRF Studio, Zürich, 2016
BIS BIS-2267 SACD [64:59]

For a long time I have favoured the Arditti String Quartet’s version of the Schoenberg (MO 782024), and this despite finding the voice of Dawn Upshaw a little too smooth for the music. After this set vanished from my collection I have made do with the LaSalle Quartet on Brilliant (9016), Margaret Price in the final two movements of the String Quartet No. 2 having the edge over Upshaw. Whilst I appreciate that putting the Arditti ahead of the LaSalle might be a sacrilege for some, there is just a little something that moves me more.

In this company the Gringolts Quartet and Malin Hartelius have hard acts to follow, and while they give excellent and committed performances, for me they just don’t quite make it to the heights of the Arditti. They are not far off, however. I find their performance a little too polished at times, this takes the edge of the music. At other times, though, the greater sound quality leads to greater insight into the music. This is especially so in the Litanei, Langsam and Entrückung Sehr langsam movements of No. 2 where the words of Stefan George are enunciated perfectly by Malin Hartelius. Hartelius manages to bring the angst out of the text far more than either Upshaw or Price achieves. It is just little things that for me win the day for the Arditti, but their performance is heard in the context of the complete string quartets. When the Gringolts Quartet record the rest, and I hope that BIS does let them record the first and third as well as the early D Major, my opinion might well change.

So for me, whilst the Gringolts Quartet does not achieve top billing at the moment, this recording has a lot going for it, and they might well achieve the top if BIS allows them to record the next instalment. As of now, one of the winning aspects of this recording is the recorded sound, by far the best, and I have only had a chance to listen to the stereo version at the moment. Another is the booklet essays which have been drawn from experts at the Arnold Schönberg Centre, Vienna. These are the most informative and enlightening of all the notes I know.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: Dave Billinge



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