Zemlinsky

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COMPOSERS: Zemlinsky
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Zemlinsky: String Quartets 2
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Escher String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573088

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It was almost 40 years after his death before Zemlinsky’s Four Quartets became better known. That was thanks to the pioneering DG recordings by the LaSalle Quartet, now currently available on Brilliant Classics. Since then, a number of ensembles have also taken these remarkable works into their repertory, most notably the Artis Quartet of Vienna whose Nimbus cycle compares favourably with that of the LaSalle’s. Yet these new recordings of the First and Second from the Escher Quartet are every bit the equal of both earlier versions, and enjoy the benefit of superior sound.

The Eschers maximise the expressive qualities in the Brahmsian First Quartet, delivering exuberant playing in the outer movements, savouring the old-world charm and Mendelssohnian lightness of the Allegretto and bringing requisite weight and poignancy to the slow movement. Even more involving is their blistering account of the Second. This emotionally tortured work, hovering uneasily between passages of stable and dislocated tonalities, is conceived as an extended single movement in the manner of Schoenberg’s First Quartet. Negotiating a clear sense of direction through its highly complex structure poses a considerable challenge, but the Eschers take the music by the scruff of its neck, playing with tremendous virtuosity and subtlety of nuance. Recorded in first-class sound, they hold the listener spellbound from first bar to last. Overall, this recording is a tremendous achievement by any standards.

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Erik Levi