Szymanowski: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Dux
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Camerata Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 0366 (distr. Metronome)
While Szymanowski’s two string quartets are by no means the first such works in the Polish canon, they are the earliest of real significance. The First, written in 1917, is a curious blend of slightly misty Impressionism and determined development; its opening movement is superbly sustained with some remarkably experimental exploration of string texture. Though undeniably beautiful, the slightly archaic quality of the melodic phrasing in the succeeding Andantino semplice seems unduly muted after the passion of the initial Allegro moderato. The finale is fascinating for its anticipation of Shostakovich, but its counterpoint at times feels a little too arch.

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Composed ten years later, the Second Quartet is both more consistent in style and, as a whole, more successful. The opening of the work is marvellously ear-catching. There are national elements, typical of this period in Szymanowski’s career, in the second and third movements, though more remarkable is the inventive impetus which gives the Scherzo and the finale, again dominated by counterpoint, exhilarating energy. Although by no means flawless in delivery, the Camerata Quartet gives splendidly idiomatic performances of both works and is excellently recorded in an appropriately resonant acoustic. The odd lapses in intonation and ensemble are more than compensated for by the passion these performers generate, a quality which takes them to the head of the disappointly small list of competitors. The only drawback is that, unlike the Maggini Quartet’s recommendable performances on ASV, the Camerata includes no makeweights, resulting in a playing time of little more than half an hour. Jan Smaczny