WORKS: String Quartet, Op. 3; Five Pieces, Op. 5; Am Grabe Richard Wagners
PERFORMER: Kronos Quartet, Aki Takahashi (piano), Marcella DeCray (harp)
CATALOGUE NO: 7559-79318-2 DDD
The thinking behind this 32-minute ‘CD single’ escapes me. Just why the Kronos Quartet should choose to bring together these three works and no others – the remainder of Webern’s pieces for string quartet, or Berg’s Lyric Suite, for instance – is not divulged by the sleeve notes, which can only overdose on meaningless banality: ‘the music of the future was still in the future; is always in the future until the moment of its performance’. But it is useful to have Liszt’s Wagner tribute made available, a beautifully effective little elegy for piano, harp and string quartet, woven out of a slender motif from Parsifal.
The Kronos give the Liszt a suitably numinous performance, but fail conclusively to get to grips with either of the other works. Their tone is thin and wiry, their projection of the music’s character unconvincing. Berg’s hyper-Romantic compression of traditional quartet form into two tense movements defeats their powers of concentration, while Webern’s expressionist miniatures are treated as a catalogue of effects, suitable for a demonstration of quartet technique perhaps, but hardly an appropriate way of dealing with music of such evasive poetry. Andrew Clements