Nielsen: String Quartets No.2; String Quartet No. 3

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartets No.2; String Quartet No. 3
PERFORMER: Zapolski Quartet
Only a couple of months ago, I was welcoming the Oslo Quartet’s recording of the first two Nielsen quartets on Naxos. Now the Zapolski Quartet follows up its accounts of the First and Fourth Quartets on Chandos with the remaining two. For those who have not come across him before, Alexander Zapolski comes from the Ukraine and formed his quartet in 1993 in Copenhagen, where it has since established an enviable reputation. As with their earlier disc, they leave no doubt as to their technical prowess and quality, but show a continuing reluctance to allow the music to speak for itself. Try the scherzo movement of the Third Quartet and you will hear what I mean. The directness of utterance of Nielsen’s ideas is undermined by intrusive expressive exaggerations which draw attention to themselves. Perhaps the Zapolski is not quite as fussy and mannered as it was in the Fourth Quartet, but it is all too studied and self-aware. It has the advantage of altogether exemplary recorded sound and in this respect scores over its Norwegian rivals. But in all other respects, the Oslo Quartet is to be preferred and is of course a third of the price. Robert Layton