LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quartets, 1918 & Op. 8
PERFORMER: Leipzig String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 307 1071-2
Kurt Weill’s slender output of chamber music dates from his apprentice years, well before he found his true métier in musical theatre. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there are precious few hints of the composer’s more familiar ironic vein in these quartets. But both works are well worth hearing, and are presented here in superbly committed performances. The Quartet in B minor, written while Weill was a pupil of Humperdinck at the Berlin Musikhochschule, is a remarkably fluent achievement for a mere 18-year-old. Admittedly, the musical language is highly derivative, being steeped in the late-Romantic world of Strauss and Reger. But there are occasional flashes of originality, not least the gently swooning slow interlude that provides an unexpected contrast to the insistent fugal activity of the rest of the finale.
The Op. 8 Quartet, completed in 1923 during the period when Weill studied with Busoni, marks a tremendous advance on its predecessor. Here the composer adopted a more astringent modernist idiom, though one that was tempered by cool Busonian objectivity in the linear textures and the austere harmonies of the concluding Choralphantasie. The Leipzig String Quartet offers a measured and ultimately more convincing approach to this movement than the Brandis Quartet on a 1994 Nimbus release. But with its coupling of Hindemith’s Third and Schulhoff’s First, the Brandis’s disc provides better musical rewards than Hindemith’s Minimax – an amusing and occasionally heavy-handed sequence of parodies of light music by Suppé and others that will hardly repay repeated listening. Erik Levi