Szymanowski/Webern Works for String Quartet

Author: 
Stephen Johnson

Szymanowski/Webern Works for String Quartet

  • String Quartet No. 1
  • String Quartet No. 2
  • Langsamer Satz (Slow movement)

A faintly theatrical swoon from leader Matthias Enderle in the opening phrase of the First Quartet put me on my guard for a moment—but only a moment. The rest is irresistible: superb quartet playing, alert and finely balanced, a gorgeous array of colours and a feeling for what it is that makes Szymanowski's unique sound-world live that goes deeper than in any performance of either quartet I can remember.
Granted, the current competition—the Varsovia Quartet on Olympia—is impressive, in fact I've recommended their generously filled disc on a number of occasions: but this brings new understanding. After having heard the Carmina in the opening of No. 2, I feel I now know what ppp dolce means. And everything that follows has its own dream-like logic: the voluptuous two-fold sigh, the anxious and eventually menacing sul ponticello figures, the eerie chant in quiet harmonics—even the simple plagal cadence that brings this fabulously inventive movement to a close seems just right. An over-particular reviewer might point out what sounds like an extra cello pizzicato F sharp just before that final gesture—all right it's there, but make anything of it and I shall be dusting off the duelling pistols.
One could go on listing beautifully realized events and details, but what is most impressive is—as I've already hinted—the feeling for the way the music moves, whether as a slow-drifting stream of consciousness in the Second Quartet's opening Moderato, or with dancing urgency as in the following Vivace, scherzando. Even the dense, harmonically tortuous fugal writing of the finale grows purposefully. The Webern Langsamer Satz is a slim filler I admit, its pallid romanticism sounding paler than ever after the vivid inner drama of the Szymanowski, but again it's beautifully played, and again warmly and intimately recorded. A brilliant debut then on their new label—and in such refreshingly unconventional repertoire. Whether you're a convinced Szymanowski admirer or a sceptic, I urge you to hear it.'

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