BEETHOVEN; BRUCKNER; HARTMANN; HOLLIGER String Quartets
In this two-disc set, the Zehetmair Quartet cover nearly 200 years of string quartet writing: the first pin is firmly in the map with the death of Beethoven, the second still hovering over the page in the modern day. Both the earlier works are characteristically focus-driven and full of light, although the Beethoven can display some rubato that becomes distracting after a while, and the Bruckner, rarely recorded in modern times, shows an interesting (if frustratingly straightforward) side of him not so readily accessible in the church music or the later large-scale orchestral works. But listening to all four quartets together, the first two feel very much like context, with the second disc cutting properly to the chase, with the Hartmann and Holliger the places where new and exciting ideas and perspectives are to be found.
The rubato that is distracting in the Beethoven is in fact helpful in the Hartmann and, especially, in the Holliger (commissioned by the group in 2007 and dedicated to Elliott Carter), as it navigates the listener through the dark undergrowth of its abstract expressionism and effect-driven narrative. Both make great sense in the Zehetmair’s hands, creating a theatre of voices out of their instruments for the Holliger, while the shadow of Shostakovich looms over the Hartmann through his surprisingly similar treatment of Bachian counterpoint. Sensing these things greatly enhances them, and the Zehetmair ink in its lines just enough for us to be able to make sense of them.