Schoenberg: String Quartet in D (1897); String Quartet No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Schoenberg
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quartet in D (1897); String Quartet No. 1
PERFORMER: Leipzig String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 0919-2 Reissue (1992)
This is very impressive playing indeed. Schoenberg’s genial, uncharacteristically Dvorákian Quartet in D of 1897 is a work of talent rather than mastery, but it thoroughly deserves more than an occasional hearing, both for its flood of memorable tunes and its clear indications of the young composer’s Romantic musical roots. The Leipzig Quartet’s affectionate reading trumps the previous versions by the LaSalle and the Juilliard, who treated it very much as an appendix to the weightier works that came later. Yet the Leipzig turns to one of the weightiest of those – the huge First Quartet – with no less warmth and affection. I cannot recall a performance in which this enormously complex piece has been expounded with less sense of strain and more delight in discovering its cornucopic riches of melodic invention, showing eloquently how every idea relates to the others. They simply play it like a great Romantic masterwork, which of course it is. Not perhaps since the original recording by the Kolisch Quartet in 1937 (Archiphon) has there been a version of such understanding, and this one of course is in infinitely superior sound. Enthusiastically recommended – especially perhaps to listeners who think Schoenberg is ‘difficult’ and scratchy. Calum MacDonald