Schoenberg, Mahler

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COMPOSERS: Mahler,Schoenberg
LABELS: Praga PRD
WORKS: String Quartet in D (1897); String Trio, Op. 45; Phantasy, Op. 47
PERFORMER: Pražák Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 250 168 Reissue (1994)
Schoenberg’s rarely performed D major Quartet of 1897, written under the watchful eye of Zemlinsky, is very much an apprentice-piece. It can be enjoyed for its own sake (particularly when as persuasively played as here), but it sounds a lot more like Dvorák than Schoenberg. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine it being the product of the same creative mind as the String Trio and the violin-and-piano Phantasy, both composed more than a half-century later. The Trio is one of Schoenberg’s profound Expressionist masterpieces – a work that describes his experience on the brink of death. (He had suffered a serious heart attack while working on it, and was revived only by an injection directly into the heart.) According to Thomas Mann, who befriended Schoenberg around this time, the Trio depicts the composer’s hospitalisation and cure in some detail.

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The Pražák Quartet’s performances of the Trio (much more warmly recorded than the Juilliard’s equally compelling version for Sony) and of the Quartet have been available before, but the Op. 47 Phantasy and Mahler’s precociously tragic, but obsessively repetitive early Piano Quartet movement are new. The playing in the gritty Phantasy is rather run-of-the-mill, but this is in all other respects an exceptionally rewarding disc. Misha Donat