Zemlinsky • Brahms

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Zemlinsky
LABELS: Le Chant du Monde
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in A
PERFORMER: Castagneri Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: LDC 2781130

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The work of a very talented young composer and one by the mature master he admires and imitates – it’s always an interesting comparison. Zemlinsky dresses himself up in Brahmsian clothes in his youthful A major Quartet, and on the whole they fit well; but you can feel the allure of Wagner too, in the lush ambiguity of some of the harmonies. And there is something more inward and secretive about the Zemlinsky, even when the manner is Brahmsian-extrovert.

The Castagneri Quartet doesn’t try to force Zemlinsky to open up expressively, but they do brings plenty of life and colour to the music – more so than the Pražák Quartet. As for the Brahms, the Castagneri again brings plenty of subtle poetry and understanding, as well as a contained warmth. The Alban Berg Quartet – fiery and volatile as well as subtle and wistful – may be ultimately preferable, but in their less dramatic way the Castagneris have just as much to tell us about this under-appreciated work.

The recordings are intimate without being in-your-face: we are listening to the music from a good seat in the auditorium, rather than getting in amongst the players.

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Stephen Johnson