WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-4; String Quartet in E minor
PERFORMER: Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10845(2)
This is Chandos’s second recording of Zemlinsky’s String Quartets. The earlier boxed set, featuring somewhat variable performances from the Dutch Schoenberg Quartet (2002), included two relatively unknown compositions: a setting of Dehmel’s Maiblumen blühten überall for soprano and string sextet and the deeply unsettling 1927 Two Movements for string quartet. The latter work could well have appeared in this new release, but the Brodsky Quartet instead present another premiere recording, of a recently published String Quartet in E minor, composed in 1893 three years before Zemlinsky’s first acknowledged work in the medium. Fluently written with strong echoes of Mendelssohn and Schumann, it is played with commitment and elegance.
As for the numbered quartets, I was impressed by the Brodskys’ forthright and uncompromising approach to the dark and desolate Fourth, dedicated to the memory of Alban Berg. Their version of the Third is also illuminating, presenting the first movement in a much more highly wrought Romantic manner than does other accounts, though the elements of sarcasm that pervade the Finale are rather understated here compared to the savage articulation favoured by the Artis Quartet on Nimbus.
In the Second’s expansive one movement structure the Brodskys grapple valiantly with the challenges of sustaining emotional intensity over such a long time span. But although there are some magical moments, most notably the Brodskys’ hauntingly beautiful phrasing of the closing Adagio, the work’s more unhinged sections are projected with even greater urgency by both the Artis Quartet and the much-praised Escher Quartet on Naxos.