WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Christine Whittlesey (soprano)PrazŠák Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: PRD 250112 Reissue (1991)
Schoenberg’s chamber music is still treated with suspicion by even the greatest ensembles, hence it tends to be the preserve of committed modern-music specialists. Verklärte Nacht, with its late-Romantic sound-world, has a wider following, however. This new recording from the Leipzig Quartet and friends does little to dispel my admiration for the Duke Quartet’s recent release (reviewed January). The playing is vivid, but over-controlled, the moment of transfiguration rushed, and crucial dramatic passages are effectively passed over. The Duke and friends play with more recognition of the way the sextet’s programme underlies its form. The account of the Third Quartet is more successful, but does not displace the Arditti (see below).
The Prazák Quartet’s disc couples two recordings already released separately, but this logical pairing shows Schoenberg moving from the late-Romantic world of the First Quartet, with its Lisztian thematic metamorphosis and its sonata form imposed over a four-movement structure, to the Second with its soprano welcoming the ‘air from another planet’ that marked the composer’s twelve-note beginnings. Unfortunately, some perfectly acceptable performances are dogged by ‘airless’ sound, which makes listening, more so in No. 1 than No. 2, a somewhat claustrophobic experience. Christine Whittlesey sings in No. 2 with sensitivity and a feeling for the meaning of Stefan George’s words. All four of Schoenberg’s numbered quartets (there is also an early D major work) are best heard in the admirable Arditti Quartet set, which combines an authoritativeness of interpretation with excellent sound. Matthew Rye