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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #2446
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Thanks guys, appreciated.

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    Member Burbage's Avatar
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    It's Friday, so it's time to wonder why a piece was written at all. Not for any particular existential reason, but because I may as well have an aim to my listening, or it's just repetition for the sake of it. Though familiarity can work some reluctant magic, I don't find it the best of guides. I am very familiar with the interior design of open-plan offices, for example, but wouldn't spend time in them for fun.

    In this case, though, the "why?" must first stand aside for "What's This?". The title has it down as a chamber concerto. A title which, together with the three movement structure, suggests we're in for something divertimentoesque, perhaps like the early Haydns, more froth and fun than sturm and drang, with all the good lines given to a virtuosic violin, while everyone else goes tumty-tumty till the finish. Though, for good or ill, I'm more familiar with the 2nd Trio, which isn't like that at all, despite being very much a concerto for orchestra that's missing an orchestra.

    The 7th, however, follows a familiar concerto plan. The first movement's a train I'm happy to climb aboard, as it entertainingly lurches through a gallimaufrey of ideas, and juggles them very neatly. The second is placidly interesting, almost provocatively inoffensive as it noodles sweetly along with all the charm of a seductive tortoise, until it hits the ears with something like a trick of origami. I'm not sure I don't hear, amidst the duets, a quotation or two here, from Schubert or Taneyev or someone, a thread or two gently pulled out from all the velvet and tied up neatly, like a piece of invisible mending. And then there's the third, where Vivaldi* comes in and departs, as if dissected by Bruckner, leaving a conclusion that leaves me wondering what it was.

    So that's what it is. Why did Martinu write it?

    At this time, he'd been in New York for a while, found work and written plenty. Professionally, he was doing well. Personally, he'd fallen off a balcony, and had been recuperating slowly for a couple of years, while continuing to write things, including the edgier 6th. Some reckon the 7th a more a contemplative, homesick sort of piece, and I guess it might sound like that. But I'm reminded of the Korngold we listened to some weeks ago. That struck me as a homage to a Vienna that wasn't so much losing its Korngold as losing its position as the centre of the musical world. There's something of that here, too, but with a different angle. This isn't a New World piece or, to my ears, a very Czech piece or a farewell, either. If I was at all sentimental, I might suggest it sounds like hope.

    And so to recordings. The recording I listened to was the Naxos recording, with the Martinu Quartet and, without a score to gaze at, it seems they play it well enough. At least, I've been able to listen to it twice a day without feeling I've missed anything or needing to spend more money or wanting to throw someone into a volcano. Which makes a pleasant change.

    * I guess that's the bit that reminds people of Haydn, presumably because it kicks off a bit maestoso, like Haydn's later quartets, but I don't hear much more than that. Perhaps I am listening wrong, but to me it sounds more like a pastiche, or quotation, of a Vivaldi concerto, and more baroque than classical.

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  5. #2448
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Nice review, Burbage. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. The thing I like about the Martinu SQs Is they are quite different
    The 5th, 6th and 7th are very enjoyable SQs. After playing through all those recordings here's my thoughts in summation..

    Talich - superbly played and the brisk pacing is spot on for me in that last movement but the recording is so boxy and bass-light that I couldn't wholly recommend it. With better sound it would be at, or near, the top.
    Prazak - another decent account, that is well recorded and played but for me it needs more vigour and 'Czechness' in the final movement. Still very enjoyable and the disc fillers are Intriguing pieces.
    Martinu - this is a a really enjoyable performance with a more romantic warmth. The 2nd movement is lovely and the whole account is easily recommendable. Another fine Naxos SQ disc.
    Stamitz - I own this impressive account and its an excellent reading full of slavic charm and passion. An excellent, well-balanced performance with the only drawback, personally, being a very reverberant recording but once you adapt to it it actually works well here.
    Panocha - the first recording I owned and its still a knockout version. The Panocha's playing isn't as rustic as the Stamitz (unfortunately) but the recording and the sheer beauty of their ensemble is a winning combination. The slow movement is sensual in their hands.

    However, as excellent as the Panocha and Stamitz quartets are I wanted something that was a mix of the two, combining aural beauty, gorgeous tone, idiomatic playing and rustic, Czech charm so that last movement, in particular, didn't sound too Haydnesque and guess what? I found it in a recording I don't own!

    Top Pick

    640x640.jpg

    So, from what I can gather this is a 1962 stereo recording by the original Vlach quartet, originally released on Supraphon (who now own the Panton label) but there is no way you'd think this was an older recording. The Vlach's playing is full of Czech charm and a real fullness of tone that had me hooked from the start. They play with a vivacity that I found infectious and this was a recording that oozed the loveliness of the Panochas and the bucolic charm of the Stamitz quartet. I think HP mentioned this too and was equally impressed with this one. I will try and get hold of this one as I want it in my collection. A terrific performance. Thank you, annaw, for a great pick this week.

    *Incidentally, for some of you the Stamitz, Panocha or Martinu Quartets may resonate better as there was little in it.
    Last edited by Merl; Mar-26-2021 at 18:26.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I think he already affirmed this, but just a reminder that SearsPoncho is up next.
    "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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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Great summary, thank you Merl.

    I must say (again) that the Vlach Quartet performance went straight to the top of my list after one listen, and stayed there.

    Stamitz worthy runner-up; and there is nothing wrong with the Martinu Quartet on Naxos, it's just that I find I prefer a slightly more 'brawny' performance.

    I did find that after hearing #7 a few times I did wander off and listened to his quartets 4, 5 & 6 and enjoyed them much more. Just sayin' .........


    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    Nice review, Burbage. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. The thing I like about the Martinu SQs Is they are quite different
    The 5th, 6th and 7th are very enjoyable SQs. After playing through all those recordings here's my thoughts in summation..

    Talich - superbly played and the brisk pacing is spot on for me in that last movement but the recording is so boxy and bass-light that I couldn't wholly recommend it. With better sound it would be at, or near, the top.
    Prazak - another decent account, that is well recorded and played but for me it needs more vigour and 'Czechness' in the final movement. Still very enjoyable and the disc fillers are Intriguing pieces.
    Martinu - this is a a really enjoyable performance with a more romantic warmth. The 2nd movement is lovely and the whole account is easily recommendable. Another fine Naxos SQ disc.
    Stamitz - I own this impressive account and its an excellent reading full of slavic charm and passion. An excellent, well-balanced performance with the only drawback, personally, being a very reverberant recording but once you adapt to it it actually works well here.
    Panocha - the first recording I owned and its still a knockout version. The Panocha's playing isn't as rustic as the Stamitz (unfortunately) but the recording and the sheer beauty of their ensemble is a winning combination. The slow movement is sensual in their hands.

    However, as excellent as the Panocha and Stamitz quartets are I wanted something that was a mix of the two, combining aural beauty, gorgeous tone, idiomatic playing and rustic, Czech charm so that last movement, in particular, didn't sound too Haydnesque and guess what? I found it in a recording I don't own!

    Top Pick

    640x640.jpg

    So, from what I can gather this is a 1962 stereo recording by the original Vlach quartet, originally released on Supraphon (who now own the Panton label) but there is no way you'd think this was an older recording. The Vlach's playing is full of Czech charm and a real fullness of tone that had me hooked from the start. They play with a vivacity that I found infectious and this was a recording that oozed the loveliness of the Panochas and the bucolic charm of the Stamitz quartet. I think HP mentioned this too and was equally impressed with this one. I will try and get hold of this one as I want it in my collection. A terrific performance. Thank you, annaw, for a great pick this week.

    *Incidentally, for some of you the Stamitz, Panocha or Martinu Quartets may resonate better as there was little in it.
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Mar-27-2021 at 11:34.
    “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it”

    G.K. Chesterton

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  11. #2451
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    I think he already affirmed this, but just a reminder that SearsPoncho is up next.
    And I don't care what he throws at me,for once, as I'm on holiday next week.

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    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    It is too bad that the Burbage summary comes on Friday. It always gives me food for thought and then, by the time I get my ideas together, we are on to a new composition.
    So, quickly, here are some half-formed Burbage-inspired thoughts about Martinu before we move on (unless I don’t post this in time):
    After a lot of listening to the 7th quartet, a sprinkling of other chamber works and memories of some chamber music I have played, plus reading a small amount of biographical information, I am categorizing Martinu as one of those essentially apolitical composers who just want to construct good, solid music. He uses material of the past like a dystopian inventor who takes the used hubcaps and transistors from a previous civilization to construct a droid so he can have a companion. I think I put Ravel in this category also. His constructions are more dazzling, but also seem almost randomly plucked from the past (and sometimes the present). Part of this assessment of our current composer comes from my listening, but also from the bios. The stories of Martinu as a youngster seem to involve him listening to a lot of music and being determined to figure out how it works, going to a concert, hearing something and then writing it down note for note.
    I have a lot of respect for this type of composer—someone who loves and reveres the past and knows a lot about it, but uses it to create original works of art for the present. This compared to one who wants to annihilate the past, or less destructive, one who doesn’t know the past and simply creates from their heart. All types can be great composers. I think part of my feelings on this are influenced by one of my teachers, a great composer who had an encyclopedic knowledge of music and who would, during lectures, grab a piano and start playing any little passage from a symphony that would illustrate his point. For memory, of course.

  14. #2453
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Of the four recordings I heard this week, I agree with several of you that the Vlach takes the cake. They have the lyricism of the Martinus, the distinct earthy flavor of the Panochas (in fact that rough, speech-like “Czech accent” in both the style of playing and tone quality is even more pronounced with the Vlachs) and the forward impetus of the Stamitz, combined into one delectable package marrying expressivity with sensibility. Of the other three I’d probably go Panocha - Stamitz - Martinu, although I really enjoyed them all and wouldn’t say any of them were bad by any stretch of the imagination. Panocha has more of an improvisatory feel but I almost feel like their slow movement is too espressivo with very thick vibrato. Stamitz is, as I mentioned, a more cool and detached interpretation with a more generalized (but still gorgeous) tone, but I like their unfussy approach to the slow movement and their finale is absolutely kickin’. Finally, the Martinu display much sensitivity overall but I couldn’t quite get past their more “underplayed” approach. I don’t like it when ensembles try to “prettify” everything with excessive lightness; especially this kind of folksy music needs more guts to it.

    I found time to hear all six of Martinu’s other quartets throughout the week and I must say that this little body of work is one of my finest musical discoveries of late. All of them I found absolutely delightful except the first two which had their uninspired portions. They are unabashed “throwback” works, not really modernistic in any sense of the word (the closest Martinu came to that is in the 6th, but still really tame compared to what his contemporaries were writing), but they display the optimism of the Slavic spirit in such wonderful ways, and the majority of my listening time this week has been occupied with them. I now consider them up there with all the rest of the top-notch string quartet sets of the 20th century.
    "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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  16. #2454
    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    I think he already affirmed this, but just a reminder that SearsPoncho is up next.
    .................................................. .....
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Mar-27-2021 at 22:21.
    “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it”

    G.K. Chesterton

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    I've been waiting months to nominate selections from Bach's The Art of Fugue. I thought there was a decent possibility that someone else would pick it, and I had Chausson's late quartet, which I'm fond of, as a backup. Shostakovich's 13th was also coming on strong and warranted consideration. When forum members brought up the fact that neither of Janacek's quartets had been chosen, the choice became obvious, and I was prepared to pick Janacek's 2nd quartet. In light of the foregoing, I will obviously be going with...Schubert.

    This Week's Quartet: Schubert's String Quartet #13 in A minor, D804 ("Rosamunde")
    The Recording I Listen To: Quartetto Italiano

    After a week of Martinu, I decided that another Czech quartet from the first half of the 20th century might be a bit much and it would be better to punt Janacek's masterwork to another week. Returning to the Viennese classics seems like a nice change of pace at this point in the thread, and Schubert's only appearance was over a year ago. The "Death and the Maiden" Quartet and the 15th Quartet might be greater masterworks, but the Rosamunde is my favorite Schubert quartet, which automatically puts it in my Top 10.

    For those doing comparative listening, I suspect many of you not only have a recording of the Rosamunde, but have heard multiple recordings and might even have a favorite. Please share your favorite recording with the group.

    On a side note, I can empathize with Mal because my family is going through some serious health crises. I look forward to listening to the poetry of Schubert's melodies, which will hopefully provide some comfort. I wish you all the best of health.

    Here's the Quartetto Italiano to kick things off: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEJdwTy1sgM

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Beauteous choice, SP! This thread has a funny penchant for featuring works that I have recently been thinking about. In this case, I’ve realized that I’m not very familiar at all with Schubert’s quartets outside of his last two, despite the fact that he is one of my top 5 composers. With Easter break this week, I think I’m in for a deep and exciting listening spell

    Malx and SearsPoncho, I send my sincerest thoughts and prayers for you and your families. I am well aware of how difficult these circumstances can be, but great music has helped me to get through similar times in the past and I hope that it can for you as well.
    "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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  21. #2457
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    SP, you cad! I've spent all the latter end of this week listening to Janacek SQs as I was sure you'd pick one of those. Now you throw in a total curveball. Oh well, I'll keep my notes for when we do get to Janacek. Lol

    OK, here's a roughly thrown-together list of almost 70 recordings to pick from. I've probably missed a few. If so just let me know. Thankfully I'm off all week. Apologies for my scruffy writing today. I was rushing.

    IMG_20210328_151800.jpg
    Last edited by Merl; Mar-28-2021 at 15:19.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Going with Auryn, one of my new favorites thanks to this thread. I hardly ever listen to Schubert. While of course a great composer, he gets lost for me between Beethoven and Schumann, and to my ears lacks the rhythmic or harmonic bite of either

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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I was obsessed with the C Major string quintet a couple of months back and I bought the Emerson 3 disc set so I'll go with them for now. Just by coincidence I've been listening to Blomstedt's Schubert symphony cycle last night and this morning.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Another great nomination!

    Thank you SearsPoncho (and I hope that you and your family overcome your crises).

    I'm not mad keen on Schubert in general, but I adore his late chamber music. Of the three last string quartets (#13 Rosamunde, #14 Death & The Maiden, and #15) I enjoy the chosen work most.

    In chez moi. there is the Hagen, Emerson and Chiaroscuro. On a different day, I will prefer a different one of them! What I hanker for, though is the Quartetto Italiano. I shunned them from 30 years ago because my preference was for performances sur instruments d'époque.
    I think my taste has matured!

    I look forward to this week's listening and commentary!
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Mar-28-2021 at 16:37.
    “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it”

    G.K. Chesterton

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