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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #2521
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kjetil Heggelund View Post
    I suddenly remember that I have no. 13 with the Cleveland quartet and since I liked that ages ago I went and bought their Beethoven cycle. Now I listened a bit and thought they were slow and too romantic in the 1st mvt. Are they so bad they aren't worthy of a review?
    I couldnt find their Schubert to listen to. Sorry.

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    Senior Member Kjetil Heggelund's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    I couldnt find their Schubert to listen to. Sorry.
    Instead of listening to my cd, I found the album on iTunes and heard parts of it. Tonight I put on Haydn with the Orlando quartet

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  4. #2523
    Senior Member Helgi's Avatar
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    What a great quartet! I liked it before but much more so now after repeated listening.

    Quartetto Italiano are my favourite so far. They just seem very well suited to this quartet, in temperament. They play with warmth and feeling without ever overdoing it, and I like the relaxed tempo.

    Listened to Wihan and it sounded brilliant — but the tempo and/or phrasing made me feel uneasy at times, like they were about to tumble over themselves.

    Listening to Takács right now, the Decca recording. I have their excellent Quintet & Quartettsatz on Hyperion.

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  6. #2524
    Member Burbage's Avatar
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    First, I'd like to thank SearsPoncho for selecting this quartet, and offer my best wishes to you all.

    But as it's a Friday, good or otherwise, I've done this:

    I think we know why Schubert wrote this, because he said so, writing that he intended to write a grand symphony, and would approach that goal by way of chamber music and, as others have pointed out, though this can sound like a cycle of wordless lieder, there's something symphonic about it, too.

    It's more than just a preparatory exercise, though. Not that that's a bad thing - many composers seem to treat each piece as preparation for the next - but by dedicating it to the Schuppanzigh, Schubert clearly intended it to be publicly performed and published.

    So I'm not so sure it's the intimate display of a tortured soul that some writers have suggested. February 1824 will doubtless have been cold and damp, because it usually is, and Schubert will doubtless have been unwell and lovelorn, because he usually was. And that sinuous, smoky introduction, as the second violin churns and the viola and cello shiver, does sound a bit grim. But in it lurks Gretchen and her Spinnrad, an allusion that pops up again in both the Andante and the eerily mournful minuet, both of which also borrow from other previous work, as the jolly march finale borrows from the minuet. I'll admit that my ears don't find it wholly convincing (nor the bolted-on reprise at the end of the first movement), but I'm sure that's just a matter of taste.

    Either way, I hear this more as ghost story than confession. By this time, Schubert had set fifteen songs with 'grave' in the title, and countless others with incidental tombs, but that, presumably, reflected what poets (or, at least, their publishers) found the market wanted. And the market seemed to clamour for wailing and gnashing of teeth, not upbeat verses about happy marriages and good customer service. Exactly why, as the patriarch sat by the fire of an evening, or the student by their grate, they reached for the laments of storm-flogged sailors rather than, say, the ballads of prosperous grocers, I don't know, but that's what sold, by the look of it, and it's what Schubert set. And, despite the occasional attempt at the lighthearted (D37 is jolly enough, in a cynical sort of way, and half his drinking songs don't directly mention death), he seems to have risen to the challenge.

    So, though it's possible to see this quartet as expressing Schubert's innermost misery, it seems more likely simply to reflect the times. I guess it could be equally argued that this quartet is an essay in "absolute" or "formalist" music, and threads can be gathered around Schubert and his collaborators that point in that direction. E.T.A. Hoffmann (a judge as well as purveyor of Tales) had worked with Schubert ten years earlier on the Magic Harp (a flop), just as he was acquitting Helmina von Chezy, the author of "Rosamunde" (another flop) and librettist of Weber's "Euryanthe" (ditto) of libel. And Hoffmann was one of a group of writers who'd summarised the romantic movement as essentially about "infinite longing", and wrote of "pure music" as the peak of artistic achievement.

    Those ideas doubtless had some effect on Schubert, as they were still annoying Wagner twenty years later, and I guess they affect how we view Schubert now. So it's been useful to spend a week listening to this quartet, trying to peel away the weighty layers of reputation and expectation and influence, and trying to hear it for exactly what it is. A deceptively transparent tale, told in four elegant, wistful, parts.

    And now to matters of substance. The recording I've been listening to mostly is that of the Mosaiques, who make a proper fireside shocker of it. It's the closest I can find to the feel of a gripping performance I attended, decades ago, at the Wigmore Hall. I'm not very picky about performances, and usually happy to hear different ways of doing things but, with this quartet, I've regrettable views on how it should go.

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  8. #2525
    Senior Member GucciManeIsTheNewWebern's Avatar
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    I've been quiet here for the past couple weeks because I generally prefer to just listen and enjoy and read others comments, as I don't have much particularly insightful to add, but I'll chime in here with some thoughts.

    I listened just now to the the Guarneri Quartet's recording (I don't think I've seen it mentioned yet). I honestly don't get the melancholy vibe that others experience, because even though this is a wildly expressive piece, it seems to me to still be within the peramaters of classical era restraint. Even the broodiness of the 1st movement seemed to be perfectly counterbalanced by shades of light, and never did I feel the piece reached the pits of despair or anguish. If anything my impression aligns more with what Burbage expressed above, an exercise in 'absolute music'.

    I was really impressed by the Andante and how much he was able to milk such a deceptively simple theme with so much harmonic variation! This was all around a really fun listen and I'll check out another performance (though I don't have quite the level of dedication Merl does! )

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  10. #2526
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    I have had a hard time figuring out exactly what I am looking for in a recording of this quartet. It is easy to be heavy handed and destroy the piece. For instance, when the accents in the last movement are over done, it is too disruptive. I like the comments by Allegro Con Brio about the songlike nature of Schubert. This does seem like the number one thing. The melodies have to flow easily like they would from a great singer.
    For a while, I was leaning toward the Hagen recording. It is hauntingly beautiful, reserved and definitely not heavy handed. The Melos ultimately seemed a little too in-my-face. The Emerson was good, but I will have to agree with others that it seemed more slick than heartfelt. Yesterday, however, something amazing happened:
    I fell in love with the Quartetto Italiano.
    The opening was so voluptuously dark and compelling. Like a warm blanket. I think the whole thing is very organic and intuitive and…human? It really spoke to me. In the last movement, some performers seem to be saying, “now we play really fast notes to show off our technique.” With them, it was just an inevitable development of the musical idea.

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  12. #2527
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I agree with plenty of the insightful comments above. I don't see the Rosamunde as an incredibly dark piece. I hear a lot of nostalgia in this work and perhaps a yearning for someome or something far away. I know that's all purely suggestive on my part but it's how I like to hear it. However, during listening to multiple accounts, I didn't mind readings that made the quartet darker in nature. To my ears, the Mosaiques did this but their particular sound might be partly responsible for that along with a very broad pacing of the first movement. Although the Itallianos also took their time, theirs is a far more nostalgic vision and one which is rightly very popular among listeners here. One of the performances that captured that feeling of nostalgia in a slightly happier frame would be the Kodaly. Again there's nothing wrong with that slightly sunnier approach either as long as that kind of sound and flow is maintened and the Kodalys achieved this. What I was looking for, personally, was something in between that was just a little quicker and slightly more rugged (I hear a determination in this quartet) so that was why I went for the Takacs. Incidentally, Gucci, I did listen to both Guarneri accounts and agree that they play more along the lines of the Kodalys. I ruled their 2nd account out more because of the recording. The earlier one was 'comfortably' played, a little bland and quite distant. The most recent one was in fact a fine account that I would heartily recommend except for some very annoying scraping noises on the recording (not from the instruments), that were very noticeable at high volumes on my ear buds, that totally ruin an otherwise very decent performance for me. I didn't hear the noises in all movements but the damage had been done. Incidentally I also listened to their DATM on the same disc and that is spoiled by some weird sonics in the first movement (sounds like someone trying to put a shelf up, lol). It's not a well engineered disc. The reason I chose the Janacek is not for the same reasons as the Takacs. They play it with a unique character that I couldn't quite put my finger on but was very pleasing to this particular set of old ears. Simple as that.
    Last edited by Merl; Apr-02-2021 at 14:39.

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  14. #2528
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    I just listened to the Kodaly and I like it a lot. It is straight forward, rustic, free from anything too fancy or precious and I think that approach works with Schubert.
    I think all of the talk of Schubert as a song composer (I was getting the same Gretchen vibe from the beginning of this quartet as Burbage), but I have always had this feeling that when Schubert put on his chamber music and symphony hat, it takes him extra long to “work things out.” His late work in particular often seems long and arduous, yet it always seems necessary. Part of me thinks, do we really need to hear that tune again? Or, isn’t it time for the recap? But the wiser part of me knows that if I just relax and listen to everything play out, it will always be worth it.
    It seems like Schubert, writing in such proximity to Beethoven, should be similar in his musical struggles, but to me, they are fundamentally different. Schubert has conflicting ideas but they don’t often have clear identities. It isn’t sunshine versus tragedy, but sunshine, tinged with melancholy and Tragedy imbued with rays of hope. Maybe this is why it takes long for his ideas to play out.
    I don’t know if this really explains how I feel about Schubert. Just thinking out loud.

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  16. #2529
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    Carmina banana writes, "but I have always had this feeling that when Schubert put on his chamber music and symphony hat, it takes him extra long to “work things out.” His late work in particular often seems long and arduous, yet it always seems necessary."

    It may seem that way, but Schubert composed at a rapid pace during his later period. One masterwork after another poured out of him, so much so that he didn't even recognize some of his own compositions later on. Which isn't surprising, considering how hugely prolific he was towards the end of his life. In 1827-28 alone, he composed numerous masterpieces--every thing in the D.900s, including his "Winterreise" & "Schwanengesang" song cycles, the String Quintet in C major, the Mass in E flat major, D. 950, the "Great" Symphony no. 9, his final three piano sonatas, D. 958, D. 959, D. 960, the Fantasy in F minor for four hands, D. 940, his Fantasy in C major for violin and piano, the Four Impromptus (for solo piano), Op. 935, the Piano Trio no. 2, D. 929, etc., etc. It bogles the mind. Maybe only Mozart can rival him in respect to this incredible flourish of productivity. So, if anything, the weaknesses that may exist in Schubert's late compositions are more likely due to his not taking the time "to work things out".
    Last edited by Josquin13; Apr-03-2021 at 23:48.

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  18. #2530
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I have very few meaningful thoughts to add to wrap up this week, so I’ll just say that the Artemis recording has some truly exquisite phrasing from some players who clearly love the music very much. Highly recommended if you’re looking for another distinguished performance! Looking forward now to Henry’s pick
    "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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  20. #2531
    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    My pick is ......

    Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet number 2 in A Major Op.68 September 1944

    Although just the second of 15 in the genre for DSCH, he was halfway through his life and had already written the mighty 7th and 8th symphonies, and amongst other works, 2 piano quintets, the opera 'Lady Macbeth Of The Mtsensk District', 1st piano concerto, 24 Preludes and 6 film scores. It is the work of a well established composer.

    1944 saw the premieres of Bartok's Concerto For Orchestra and Michael Tippett's A Child Of Our Time, and Bing Crosby's Swinging On A Star was the biggest pop-song on the planet.

    Bartok had already completed all 6 of his string quartets some 5 years previously.

    The second is easily my most listened to DSCH quartet. It is not simple for me to choose a favourite recording. At the moment it would possibly be a toss-up between the Fitzwilliam and the Shostakovich Quartets.

    Looking through my CDs, I have:

    Borodin X3, Emerson, Pacifica, Brodsky, Beethoven, Moyzes, Danel, Shostakovich, Eder, Mandelring, Fitzwilliam, Zapolski, Rubio and Carducci.

    I look forward to reappraising my thoughts on this masterpiece in the light of a week's focused listening and commentary from esteemed forum members.

    Here's the excellent Jerusalem Quartet performing live ...



    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Apr-04-2021 at 10:41.
    “The special mark of the modern world is not that it is sceptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it”

    G.K. Chesterton

  21. #2532
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    Good choice, Henry. This isn't a quartet that I know well, so I'm looking forward to giving it a spin. I'll have to dig out the Meandering Quartet's recording from my closet. (I hear they're nearly as good in Shostakovich as the Mandelring Quartet.)

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  23. #2533
    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Josquin13 View Post
    Good choice, Henry. This isn't a quartet that I know well, so I'm looking forward to giving it a spin. I'll have to dig out the Meandering Quartet's recording from my closet. (I hear they're nearly as good in Shostakovich as the Mandelring Quartet.)


    Before your post landed, I'd spotted the smellcheque issue and amended it!
    “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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  25. #2534
    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenryPenfold View Post
    Looking through my CDs, I have:

    Borodin X3, Emerson, Pacifica, Brodsky, Beethoven, Moyzes, Danel, Shostakovich, Eder, Mandelring, Fitzwilliam, Zapolski, and Carducci.
    I know Merl will sit down with his legal pad and list the candidates (a quick check on Presto shows 40 recordings), but this quartet is interestingly the only one of DSCH's that the Takacs ever recorded. (It's paired with the piano quintet they did with Hamelin, but because it's on Hyperion you won't find it on any streaming service.)

    Very much looking forward to this week! Thanks, Henry!

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  27. #2535
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StevehamNY View Post
    I know Merl will sit down with his legal pad and list the candidates (a quick check on Presto shows 40 recordings), but this quartet is interestingly the only one of DSCH's that the Takacs ever recorded. (It's paired with the piano quintet they did with Hamelin, but because it's on Hyperion you won't find !

    Lol @ 'legal pad'. It's not very legal I'm afraid but I'll go thru the recordings tomorrow as it's silly o'clock here. 40! Well at least that's better than 70. Not one of my fave Shosty SQs so this gives me a chance to listen to it better. I actually have the Takacs (plus Rubio, Pacifica, Mandelring and some others) so looking forward to hearing them again.

    Below.... 'The Pad' (it's not very exciting)

    IMG_20210404_014708.jpg

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