String Quartets Nos 1, 7 & 11
Chandos CHAN 20174 69:44 mins
The second volume in the Arcadia Quartet’s Weinberg cycle is every bit as impressive as its predecessor. The performers, supported by a warm but clear recording, really get to the heart of the music, exploiting a wide spectrum of emotions in each of these works, and taking infinite care in maximising textural variety and instrumental balance. Such qualities are most crucial to projecting the elusive character of the First Quartet, composed in Warsaw in 1939, but revised near the end of the composer’s life. The First is unquestionably a remarkable achievement. However, its oversaturated chromatic writing and densely scored passage work, especially in the opening movement, pose considerable challenges for the performers. The Arcadias overcome these potential problems superbly, bringing both clarity and a real sense of direction to the music.
Their performances of the two other Quartets are equally illuminating. The highlight of the Seventh Quartet is the large-scale Finale whose central section is an extended set of variations on a deeply unsettling theme that rises to an impassioned climax. The Arcadias negotiate the ebb and flow of the musical argument with compelling power, unleashing an almost unhinged sense of emotional collapse when Weinberg’s writing is at its most ferocious.
In sharp contrast, the Eleventh Quartet of 1966 is far more restrained. Yet the Arcadias respond imaginatively to the somewhat disconcerting subtexts in the music, not least in the shadowy chorales and eruptive pizzicato passages of the second movement and the bizarre allusions to clucking chickens in the first.