Berg: String Quartet, Op. 3; Lyric Suite

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COMPOSERS: Berg
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: String Quartet, Op. 3; Lyric Suite
PERFORMER: Alban Berg Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55190 2 DDD
Berg managed to construct his String Quartet of 1910, his last work written under Schoenberg’s tutelage, with little reference to traditional tonal relationships and frameworks, arguably taking things to a further extreme than his teacher at this point.

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These two new recordings take opposing views of the work, the Petersen Quartet (formed in Berlin in 1979) seeing it as a last gasp of Romanticism, the better-known Alban Berg Quartet as the first breath of a new age. The difference is reflected both in the manner of playing and in the ambience of the two recordings. The Bergs play up the tonal harshnesses and the closeness of microphones gives an added asperity; the Petersens, on the other hand, make more of the music’s Romantic and expressionist gestures, and are a little fiercely caught. Choice boils down to a matter of taste: the Bergs are technically superior, if emotionally cool, but the Petersens make for a more dramatically involving listening experience.

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The couplings count for much. The Lyric Suite is undoubtedly the more apt (if ungenerous in terms of length) and gets a more rounded and involved performance from the Alban Berg Quartet than Op. 3, but the Petersen’s Janácek and Dutilleux provide an intriguing juxtaposition of 20th-century composers’ varying approaches to the quartet medium. Matthew Rye