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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1771
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    During this past year, having Webern’s music click for me was a major milestone in my subsequent revelations regarding modern music. It was the “Six Pieces for Orchestra.” Convinced that I was missing something, I adopted a different mindset to approaching the music than I was used to. I envisioned the composer as an abstract expressionist painter; applying carefully-chosen colors, textures, and shapes in service of his unique conception. And it was a “lightbulb moment.” What had previously been random, confusing sounds became an enticing world that I longed to enter.

    In a way, Webern makes us focus exclusively on the fundamental physical properties of music - pitch, timbre, volume, and the richness and intensity that results from the expert blending of these qualities. I don’t really listen for melody, harmony, and rhythm in his work. I close my eyes, envision a blank canvas, and then hear every brushstroke as a different color or shape. The talent required to compose this music is truly astounding; so much more than it sounds at first. As has already been noted, silence is a key component as well; the empty spaces on the canvas are just as important as the lines, dots, and blobs. It’s as far from “random” as you can get; it’s exquisitely crafted. The trick is getting your mind to pick up on all the little details that are packed into each little phrase.

    In his string quartet music, Webern sets an even bigger challenge for himself by eschewing the orchestra which allows him a large variety of colors and timbres. But he still exploits every sonic possibility of the four instruments. Even as someone used to Webern’s idiom, I was at first taken aback by the brusqueness and briefness of the Six Bagatelles; at just around (even under) five minutes long, I doubt we’ll ever do another quartet on this thread that is so short! Every little action means something as the interplay of sound and silence is heightened. I do have to admit that I prefer his orchestral music in general because I love Webern's ear for instrumentation - but among the chamber music I prefer the Six Movements for String Quartet (which is a must-hear in the string orchestra version conducted by Karajan, who wrings every last drop of expression from it) and the string trio. If anyone finds themselves slightly mystified by this week’s quartet, I would encourage them to use this opportunity to keep exploring the remarkably approachable repertoire of this endlessly fascinating composer, who for me has opened up a whole new world of what music can be and do.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  3. #1772
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I've been having a break this week due to sorting out my HDs. I'm not a big fan of Webern's string music (even though I have the 'Complete Webern' DG 6cd set courtesy of a local charity shop) so I'll sit this one out. I don't dislike it but I already have a backlog of stuff to plough through at the moment.

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  5. #1773
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Next week’s choice belongs to Josquin13.

    Current schedule of nominators:

    Josquin13
    Bwv 1050
    Portamento
    sbmonty
    Merl
    Knorf
    Simplicissimus
    calvinpv
    newyorkconversation
    Iota
    Rangstrom
    BlackAdderLXX
    starthrower
    annaw
    SearsPoncho

    On standby (we haven’t seen any of these folks in some time - if any of you wants to pop in and have your name added to the list, just do so and you’ll be inserted into the rotation!
    Vicente
    flamencosketches
    Euler
    Enthusiast
    Shosty
    Eramire156
    adriesba
    DTut
    MissKittysMom
    20centrfuge
    TurnaboutVox
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

  6. #1774
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    Hello everyone. I've been closed out from the TC website for well over a month now, for some strange reason that I don't understand. For a time, the website also slowed down quite a lot, and apparently I wasn't the only person having that problem. Then, a couple of weeks ago I was finally able to post again, but frustratingly haven't been able to post on certain threads, including this one. As it is my turn to choose a quartet for the coming week, I'll try again, & hopefully, this time I won't get closed out. (If not, I'll try to private message this post to Allegro Con Brio, and hopefully, he can copy it onto the thread for me.)

    However, I have been keeping up with each week's selection, & even wrote a couple of posts; but it's too late for them now, as we've moved on to other quartets. Thanks everyone for your selections! I've enjoyed them all, and as always, thanks Merl for your tireless efforts in picking out the best recordings to listen to (though I was surprised that neither the Talich or Prazak recordings made it onto your Dvorak list. But you did mention the Smetana, Panocha, & Emerson recordings, which I also like).

    My selection for this week is the French composer, Charles Koechlin's String Quartet No. 1, Op. 51, composed in 1911/1913. I had considered choosing a number of other quartets--from the likes of Fartein Valen, Ernst Krenek, & Anders Hillborg, along with Koechlin's more substantial String Quartet No. 2, Op. 57 (which would later become his 2nd Symphony), but ended up picking Koechlin's 1st quartet because it's shorter (less than half the length of his 2nd), and it's a work that has grown on me over time: which is something that I've found can happen with Koechlin's music. I admit that Koechlin sometimes takes a long time to say what he has to say, but I've also found that his music can be a meditative, calming, tranquil, zen-like experience; that is, if you have the patience to get through it (which I do, since I also find him to be a very refined craftsman and a first rate orchestrator, & besides, his music is not quite as simple as it may first sound). However, I don't think that's so much the case with his shorter String Quartet No. 1 (which moves along nicely).

    As for recordings, I suppose Merl's got another week to take a breather, since I only know of one recording of Koechlin's quartet--it's by the all-female Ardeo Quartet, & I think it's a very fine performance. (Maybe you'll find another?) Indeed Koechlin has tended to be an under performed composer, though in recent years he's been getting more & more recordings, fortunately, such as the Ardeo's recording of his two string quartets:



    https://www.earsense.org/chamber-mus...D-major-Op-51/
    https://www.allmusic.com/album/koech...2-mw0001863336

    For those that respond favorably to this work and want to explore Koechlin's chamber music further, I'd suggest that you also have a listen to his late 1949/50 chamber version of his early 1917 solo piano work, "Paysages et marines"--which IMO is a neglected master work of the French "Impressionist" period; along with his Violin Sonata, Sonata pour piano et alto (viola), two "La Primavera" Quintets, and the Piano Quintet, Op. 80. If you have a further inclination, you might also try his lengthy 2nd String Quartet:

    Paysages et Marines (IMO, the Christoph Keller/Ensemble Zurich recording is the best, of only two to date):




    Violin Sonata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjNzlnFYa5U
    Viola Sonata, or Sonata pour piano et alto, Op. 53: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdstJvU5RYI
    "Primavera" Quintet No. 1, Op. 156: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-kmNe8Ytrg
    "Primavera" Quintet No. 2, Op. 223: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTh6...ZuJBo&index=11
    Piano Quintet, Op. 80: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxuxeAPT_r8
    String Quartet No. 2, Op. 57: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1-s0OGdX5g

    Koechlin also composes beautifully for wind instruments, such as in his chamber works for flute, oboe, clarinet, and saxophone: Here, for example:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UP7STyu7hCI
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mtDo67j0-A

    I hope people enjoy getting to know this quartet, although in the past I've noticed that Koechlin's music can be something of an acquired taste. Nevertheless, his music is worth getting to know, IMO, especially for those looking to hear music from the French period that was not composed by Debussy, Ravel, or Faure (etc.). By the way, Debussy and Faure thought very highly of Koechlin's abilities, as they both asked him to orchestrate works for them (Debussy's ballet "Khamma" and Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande").
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jan-03-2021 at 11:17.

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    Oh good. It worked. I'm back!

  9. #1776
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I'm not familiar with much of Koechlin's music, Jossie, but I've heard his name. Looking forward to hearing this one and Mandryka's Webern from last week. Good to have you back, mate. I'll try and get to this and last week's pick in the next few days. I've got a few things to finish listening to and then I'll give them both a crack.

    Edit: Just listening to the a Koechlin SQ now and it is a delightful work. I'm definitely gonna search this one out, Jossie.
    Last edited by Merl; Jan-03-2021 at 20:32.

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    J13, thank you for the head's up. While I have (and enjoy) some of Koechlin's piano and orchestral music I was unaware that he wrote any quartets. Unfortunately I am unable to source a copy of the lone recording so I'll have to pass on this week's inattentive listening session.
    Last edited by Rangstrom; Jan-04-2021 at 01:40. Reason: typo

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    That was thoroughly enjoyable. I listen to a great deal of Debussy and Faure, and that sounded like the musical child of both composers. I agree that the music has a "meditative, calming" effect. If there is more music from this composer on this level, how come it's taken me over three decades to discover him? Doesn't he deserve to be better known?

    Thanks Josquin13! That was right in my sweet spot.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Yeah, big thanks from me, Jos. I liked it so much I tracked down a cheap copy of the Ardeo Quartet's recording (you just have to know where to look! ) and it should be here today along with the Antigone Quartet's recording of the 3rd quartet. I couldn't turn them down for the price. Agree with SP that it's definitely in that sweet spot that I love and has a Zemlinsky / Ravel feel to it whilst chanelling Satie and borrowing Haydnesque charm, especially in the first movement. If you like this try the other quartets. They are equally impressive.
    Last edited by Merl; Jan-04-2021 at 11:54.

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    Rangstrom writes, "J13, thank you for the head's up. While I have (and enjoy) some of Koechlin's piano and orchestral music I was unaware that he wrote any quartets. Unfortunately I am unable to source a copy of the lone recording so I'll have to pass on this week's inattentive listening session."

    Does your computer not play music? That's too bad. I suppose that also rules out Spotify for you...

    Yes, Koechlin was a very prolific composer, and wrote in most genres except for concertos & operas; at least, I've never encountered a Koechlin opera. If one does exist, it's never been recorded, which is possible considering that four of his five symphonies have never been recorded, and many of his works remain unpublished. Koechlin was also a very eclectic composer, in terms of his range of musical interests and influences (similar to Debussy & Ravel). Which is one of the reasons why I'm attracted to his music, being more of an early music lover, and yet at the same time, also a total Debussy & Ravel nut.

    Sears Poncho,

    Koechlin is indeed the "musical child" of Fauré, as Fauré was his teacher (along with Jules Massenet & a couple of others). He studied with Fauré at the same time as Maurice Ravel and Jean Roger-Ducasse. Interestingly, Koechlin wrote the first biography on Fauré, which was published in 1927. If memory serves, Koechlin was studying with Fauré when Fauré asked him to orchestrate his "Pelleas et Melisande": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrrdhR6tGB8. (I find it interesting that Fauré chose Koechlin over Ravel for this task.) Plus, as I mentioned above, Debussy felt a close enough kinship to Koechlin's exotic style to ask him to orchestrate his ballet Khamma when Debussy's health was failing and he couldn't manage to do so himself; although Koechlin worked very closely with Debussy on this project, so it's not exactly like Debussy gave him free reins to do whatever he liked with his score: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvnqSKozaPU. Debussy's choice of Koechlin doesn't surprise me at all, as he certainly wouldn't have asked Ravel, considering the uneasy competition & rivalry that existed between them.

    Yes, there is much more music from Koechlin on this level. But, as I wrote above, sometimes it can take Koechlin a long time to say what he has to say, which is why I picked a shorter work to serve as an introduction this week (& not his 41 minute 2nd SQ). For starters, I'd suggest that you check out my links above to some of his other chamber works, especially the Violin Sonata and his chamber version of "Paysages et Marines", both of which are essential listening; along with his 2nd "Primavera" Quintet (which the Montreal Chamber Players have made a very fine recording of, on the Atma label: https://www.amazon.com/Autour-Harp-R...s=music&sr=1-1). Koechlin's darker, more 'modern' sounding Viola Sonata is another remarkable work. I'm surprised that violists don't perform it more often, especially since they're always complaining that violinists get all the goodies. Yet here is a viola sonata that is a master work, & it gets neglected.

    As for Koechlin's solo piano music, Michael Korstick has recorded all of it, on 3 Hanssler CDs, and he gives fantastic performances--especially of the solo piano version of "Paysages et Marines". Christoph Keller has also made very fine recordings of the solo piano music (& chamber music, as well--in a superb, but unfortunately now hard to find 3 CD box set issued by the French Accord label). However, Keller isn't quite as well recorded as Korstick, who has the advantage of 'state of the art' audiophile sound engineering from Hanssler. In addition, the British pianist Kathryn Stott has likewise made an excellent recording of "Les Heures Persanes", or The Persian Hours--for Chandos, on Hybrid SACD; as have two pianists with a more modernist bent, Ralph van Raat and Herbert Henck. There's also a good Koechlin piano disc from the Israeli pianist Boaz Sharon, but here I tend to prefer Korstick, Keller, & Stott (although I like Sharon, he's a fine musician--for example, the following "Unknown Debussy" CD from Sharon has received a lot of playing time in my home over the years, plus it's great for late night listening: https://www.amazon.com/Klavierwerke-...9782586&sr=8-1).

    As for Koechlin's orchestral music, there are good recordings from conductors Leif Segerstam (of multiple works), David Zinman (of "The Jungle Book", after Kipling), James Judd (of "The Seven Stars Symphony"), and Heinz Holliger (of multiple works). I especially like Segerstam's recording of the orchestral version of Koechlin's "Les Heures Persanes", but be warned it's a long work, so it will take some patience to get through it. (I'd also be remiss not to mention that some critics have preferred Holliger's recording of "The Persian Hours" to Segerstam's, but, for me, Segerstam is the better conductor; as much as I enjoy Holliger's oboe playing in other music):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55FQqIWZRgM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4yNtvGwNq0
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N6qUz6aDlE

    Koechlin's 1896-1900 orchestral work, "Au Loin", and his 1933-45 symphonic poem, "Le Buisson Ardent" are also worth getting to know:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbup95c-64s
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdSqHvtT03E

    Not surprisingly, his music tends to become more intense and harrowing during the period of the Nazi occupation of Paris during WW2.

    The Hanssler label has now released all of their excellent series of Koechlin recordings in two box sets: one is devoted to his orchestral music, and the other to his chamber & solo piano music. They're both worth looking into, although you can buy most of these recordings individually, as well (if they haven't gone out of print...), which may be preferable:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos...W7W/musicwebuk
    https://www.arkivmusic.com/classical...bum_id=2260518

    Merl,

    I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I'm impressed that you picked up on the Haydn connection (along with Satie, Zemlinsky, & Ravel..). I didn't get that right away myself. But I agree, there are some attractive similarities between Koechlin and Haydn. Not the least of which is that they're both masterful at matching & blending various and sometimes unusual instrumental timbres in their chamber music. For example, the following Trio for Flute, Clarinet, & Bassoon! derives from one of my favorite Koechlin discs, if you don't know it. The trio is played by flautist Tajana Ruhland & co., and is part of the excellent Hanssler series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQQbNvxycAc.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jan-04-2021 at 19:23.

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  19. #1781
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Well, we have finally come to the first quartet we have done that is unavailable on my streaming service, a testament to the surprising obscurity of Koechlin. As a great enthusiast of French music who had somehow previously not had any acquaintance with this composer, I listened to the Ardeo YouTube recording with eager expectation. And I enjoyed it quite a bit! The harmonies are richly voluptuous in the best Impressionist style. But I thought that this quartet took a little too much obvious inspiration from the Ravel and Debussy quartets - a dreamy, lyrical opening movement, scherzo with prominent pizzicato, meditative minor-key slow movement, and exuberant finale. And I thought the treatment of themes was a little repetitive and unimaginative. But there was still nothing bad here if nothing that really jumped out at me, and Koechlin is definitely now on my radar. According to Wiki, it certainly sounds like he was an interesting man; being a political activist, teacher, writer, photographer, and critic as well as a very prolific composer. I find it interesting that his music has languished in obscurity relative to the growing popularity of Faure, Debussy, and Ravel. I’ll be exploring more from him eventually.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    Yes, while there is an undeniable Debussy, Ravel (& Fauré) influence on Koechlin--and possibly vice versa? (along with many other influences, such as medieval music), I don't find him derivative of them, or uninspired, or a clone. Not like I sometimes feel in regards to Satie's influence on Poulenc, for example, in their solo piano music. Rather, I think of Koechlin as his own man, and an original composer, with his own distinct voice & style (albeit an eclectic one), even if Pierre Boulez did think that Koechlin hadn't become modern enough for an early to mid-20th century composer (despite the influence of Schoenberg).

    If you're so inclined, I'd urge you to try to hear Koechlin's chamber version of "Paysages et Marines" that I linked to above--because "unimaginative" is about the last word that would come into my mind to describe this piece. For me, it's just the opposite--rather it's as imaginative and evocative and mysterious and original as any chamber work of the French "impressionist" era. Indeed, I'd place it right up there with the finest chamber music of the period: alongside or at least in the same league with (1) the two string quartets by Debussy & Ravel, (2) the Debussy Sonata for Flute, Viola, & Harp, (3) the Ravel Piano Trio & Introduction et allegro, (4) Roussel's Serenade Op. 30 for Flute, Harp, Violin Viola & Cello, and (5) Ropartz's Prelude, Marine and Chanson, just to name a handful or so of my favorite chamber works from this extraordinary era of music.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Jan-06-2021 at 11:01.

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    So I just finished my third listen through of the quartet.
    cover.jpg

    My immediate reaction was that is was pleasant music, well played and well recorded. I wasn't just sitting and listening to it, so nothing in particular stuck out to me. The last two times through I began to hear some of the more interesting (to me) sections, namely in the Scherzo and in the Finale. I'm a sucker for pizzicato in a scherzo. My favorite part of the entire work, however is the opening of the Finale. Fantastique...

    I'll give this a listen a couple more times this week, but overall I've enjoyed it.
    Last edited by BlackAdderLXX; Jan-06-2021 at 13:14.
    I'm realizing that my answer to the "favorite recording" question is usually Bruno Walter.

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  24. #1784
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BlackAdderLXX View Post
    So I just finished my third listen through of the quartet.
    cover.jpg

    My immediate reaction was that is was pleasant music, well played and well recorded. I wasn't just sitting and listening to it, so nothing in particular stuck out to me. The last two times through I began to hear some of the more interesting (to me) sections, namely in the Scherzo and in the Finale. I'm a sucker for pizzicato in a scherzo. My favorite part of the entire work, however is the opening of the Finale. Fantastique...

    I'll give this a listen a couple more times this week, but overall I've enjoyed it.
    Yep, I agree, BA (we often do, don't we?) . The finale is probably my fave movement. As for pizzicato well you know I'm with you there.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Next week’s pick goes to Bwv 1080. You still hanging around? If not, hopefully Portamento or sbmonty can be ready with an emergency choice!
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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