Einem: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 4

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WORKS: String Quartet No. 2; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: Artis Quartet
Thirty years ago, it would have been fashionable to excoriate composers such as the Austrian Gottfried von Einem for continuing to write tonal music in the wake of the serialist orthodoxy that was sweeping through Europe. But from our current post-modernist cultural perspective, Einem’s stylistic eclecticism, with its nostalgic allusions to his great Viennese predecessors – not least Schubert, whose music is directly quoted in at least two of these quartets – seems far less controversial.


All five quartets are relatively late works composed over a period of 15 years from the mid-Seventies. On first acquaintance, the odd-numbered works make by far the strongest impact. I was particularly impressed by the irascible energy of the First, which has been powerfully championed by the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI), and by the Fifth, whose six epigrammatic and distinctly unconventional movements traverse contrasting moods of violence, intensity, irony, mystery and spiritual calm. Needless to say the Artis Quartet, recorded in a rather boomy acoustic, lavishes the same degree of commitment and technical finesse on each work as in its much-admired Nimbus recordings of Zemlinsky and Weigl. Although the Alban Berg delivers an even more incisive account of the First, it would be difficult to imagine hearing better performances of the other quartets than here. Erik Levi