Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, Webern

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schoenberg,Webern,Zemlinsky
LABELS: Vanguard
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in A, Op. 4
PERFORMER: Brodsky Quartet
If the self-consciously posed images of the Brodskys on the covers of these two releases aren’t enough to put off most prospective buyers, then the stickers adorning the boxes – ‘Warning: This CD contains tunes!’ – deserve to keep the rest away. Almost 100 years on, the joke that Schoenberg and Webern wrote blamelessly Romantic music in their youth before it all went wrong has worn pretty thin, though a health warning on the second disc about the possible emetic effects of the reheated Romanticism of the Korngold and Kreisler quartets might have been appropriate. Both the Schoenberg and the Webern are apprentice works, not published until after their composers’ deaths, and both rely on the same 19th-century models, one of which was Zemlinsky, whose own First Quartet is beholden to the tradition of Brahms and Dvorák. But all three works have real integrity: they are seriously meant if flawed pieces, while it is difficult to take either Korngold’s or Kreisler’s confections seriously – just what is the motto of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony doing in Korngold’s first movement?


Despite all that, though, the Brodsky Quartet does a very decent job, even if it seems slightly more at home in the sentimental world of Korngold and Kreisler. There’s something slightly meretricious about the way in which the themes of the Zemlinsky are coiffed up – the LaSalle Quartet, in its cycle of all four of his quartets, treats the music much more directly, as it does the Schoenberg D major in its masterly survey of the entire quartet output of the Second Viennese School (both sets are currently unavailable, but are sure to be back in the catalogue before long). However, there is plenty of energy and sensitivity in all the performances on these discs; it’s just a shame the same sensitivity wasn’t applied to the packaging too. Andrew Clements