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

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Artis Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5563
Despite being enthusiastically championed by the LaSalle Quartet during the Seventies and Eighties, Zemlinsky’s four quartets still feature all too rarely in concert programmes. Yet after listening to this marvellous disc, one may wonder why. The First Quartet can surely lay claim to being one of the finest of all post-Brahmsian essays in the medium. From the exuberant and rhythmically exhilarating opening to the deeply felt and idiosyncratic harmonies of the slow movement, it’s a work packed with memorable ideas. The Artis Quartet plays the music for all its worth, exhibiting an incredibly wide range of colours and dynamic nuance. Although there are currently no rival recordings in the catalogue, it would be difficult to imagine a more convincing performance.

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The Second Quartet, composed in 1915, is a very different kettle of fish. By this stage, Zemlinsky had adopted a more chromatic musical language, though unlike Schoenberg he never renounced tonality. With its frequent changes of mood and tempo, operatic influence clearly permeates this emotionally overpowering score, and there’s little doubt that the drama enacted here concerns traumatic events in the composer’s life. Once again the Artis Quartet delivers the music with exceptional conviction and technical mastery, steering the complex one-movement structure with a marvellous sense of pacing. With sound that achieves an ideal balance between clarity and warmth of texture, this release deserves a very strong recommendation indeed.