Zemlinsky, MŸller-Hermann

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COMPOSERS: Máller-Hermann,Zemlinsky
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 4
PERFORMER: Artis Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5604
Zemlinsky’s Third Quartet (Op. 19) is very much a transitional work standing at the cross-roads between late-Romanticism and modernism. Written during the mid-Twenties, it presents a fascinating commentary on the turbulent musical climate of the period, and is dominated by an almost schizophrenic juxtaposition of moods. There’s an underlying feeling of bitterness and anger which is more effectively brought out by the Artis Quartet than the softer-grained Kocian Quartet on Praga. The contrast is especially telling in the Variations, where the Artis exploits to the full the extraordinarily grotesque nature of the material in comparison with the Kocian Quartet’s more lyrical approach. Technically there is little to separate the two ensembles, but in the sardonic Burleske, the Artis definitely have the edge in terms of adrenalin and aggression.

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Although the Fourth Quartet (Op. 25) was composed 12 years later, at a time of increasing personal isolation, it too grapples with the tension between old and new, and provides disturbing allusions to a wide variety of styles from late-Beethoven and Wagner to Berg and jazz. Once again, the Artis Quartet gets to the very heart of the music, offering playing of outstanding commitment and fully matching the standards achieved in its first Zemlinsky disc (reviewed in December 1998).

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One might have expected Nimbus to have provided the two Zemlinsky quartet movements dating from 1929, but the coupling of Johanna Müller-Herrmann’s finely wrought E flat Quartet, composed under the tutelage of Zemlinsky in 1908, is both unexpected and highly enterprising. Erik Levi