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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #2896
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Anyhoo, enough of the twaddle. Another week gone and in between writing reports for various classes I managed to squeeze in as many listens as I could to almost all the recordings I wanted to hear (but I never did find the Ying or Smetana recordings). Before I start, just a quick word on repeats. I really don't give a hoot whether ensembles take repeats in this quartet (some people take exception in the last movement as they feel it then becomes unbalanced but it doesn't bother me one way or the other). With that elephant in the room addressed, here's what I liked.

    Easily recommendable
    Emerson
    St Petersburg
    Brodsky
    St.Lawrence
    Meccore
    Britten
    Danel
    Copenhagen
    Moscow
    International SQ of New York (don't exist)
    Borodin 60s (Chandos)
    Alberni
    Klenke


    Highly recommended

    New Haydn - the stuttering pauses at the beginning of the 3rd movement slightly spoil an excellent reading but elsewhere this is an excellent recording and the final movement is glorious.
    Puertas - good choices and a fine recording make this an obvious choice.
    Orava - a real creeper that improves with subsequent listens. The Aussies really get this one.
    Heath - earthy and very natural recording. The Heaths are vibrant and more rustic than others but let the music unfold so organically. They change pace effortlessly and make this is a terrific effort in a nice acoustic.
    Rolston - check out those raspy violins! Some will not like the sound of this and the players' habit of sniffing loudly before each movement can be irritating but you can't help but love the power of this very close-up recording. This is definitely a love/hate recording.

    Champions-elect

    Gabrieli - a classic disc that has earned its place at the top over the years due to its wonderful spontaneous feel. Possibly the Gabrielis' finest hour and still a wonderful recording (along with a fine accompanying Borodin 2nd quartet).
    Novus - this goes from a beautiful and broad andante to a mercurial, in-your-face and aggressive finale. Excellent dynamics throughout. Some may find the occasional noises of the players a little loud but I zoned them out after a while. Stellar sound quality (which probably accounted for the clarity of the ensemble's extraneous sounds).
    Borodin (1979 / 1993) - slightly different approaches but with the same result. Both exceptional and which one you refer is down to you. The '93 Teldec account probably has the edge for a better 2nd half and less harsh sound but you can't go wrong with either, tbh.
    Escher - top-notch sound from BIS and a neatly unfolding, balanced performance. Others may have more bite and depth but I loved this one straight away and it never got dull.

    Top spots


    81yioYpikML._SL1500_.jpg

    Utrecht - a performance that gets better and better. The 3rd movement is just so exciting, dynamic and perfectly judged and the 4th movement rocks. Great MDG sound and the Utrechts are way more interesting than labelmates the Meccores, on their overrated but decent recording. This is a fine recording from an excellent Tchaikovsky set. Reminds me of some of the best Takacs recordings on Hyperion (and you know I love some of those). I'd have liked a little more pace on the opening 2 movements but that's a very minor niggle.

    41N565YF26L._SL1500_.jpg

    Vermeer - I just adored this one. The Vermeer don't hang around in this early 2000s recording, especially in the andante, with its nicely fronted first violin. Elsewhere they judge everything immaculately, a bit more bass in the mix and this would be at the very top of the pile on its own. Shame they didn't get the Novus or Utrecht' s sound. Glorious otherwise.
    Last edited by Merl; May-06-2021 at 16:44.

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  3. #2897
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Really nice summary, Merl ! I haven't listened to the Vermeer (I should fix that), but I still absolutely adore the Utrecht's recording.

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    Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    Thank you for another great roundup, Merl, and ironic that you'd end on the Vermeer, because that's where I was going to start on the covers that get it right. A Tchaikovsky album really should be a layup, because all you need is an evocative/mysterious image of Mother Russia and you're most of the way there!

    Tch - Vermeer.jpg

    Tch - Borodin.jpg
    (Works even with the bombed-out bus in the foreground...)

    Tch - Emerson.jpg
    (This one isn't 100% Russian, so they had to go in a different direction, but it still stands out!)

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    Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    And then there are these:

    Tch - Amadeus.jpg
    (Taken from the viewpoint of the flock of seagulls, just before they caused many thousands of dollars in damage to instruments and suit jackets.)

    Tch - Rolston.jpg
    (If Julliard had a senior prom, it would look exactly like this.)

    Tch - Talich.jpg
    (I get the post-modern/ironic approach to classical covers, I swear, but does this really make you want to listen to what's inside?)

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    As usual, great summary by Merl and entertaining commentary on the album covers by Steve. I'm not sure what the Talich cover is supposed to represent. Perhaps the Borodin cover is Chernobyl.
    "It should have worked." - Arthur Carlson

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  9. #2901
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Lol, great commentary on the covers, Steve. I must admit that the Vermeer is how a Tchaikovsky cover should be. The Amadeus cover is shocking (and the old one wasn't much better). The funniest thing about the Rolston is its such a soppy cover yet the playing on the cd is far from soppy.. I quite like the Borodins bombed out bus though. A lot of those Talich covers are like that, btw - not very appealing.

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  11. #2902
    Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    Merl,
    I noticed you left the Amadeus off the list. Did they not make the cut?
    Also, totally agree about the Rolston. It is funny with this piece that groups can't quite figure out if this is a genteel piece or a foot stomper. The Rolston's scherzo is definitely the latter. I like their approach to that movement in particular. Some groups just let it lie there and "speak for itself."
    The Vermeer is beautiful. I just have one objection: I think the first movement is too fast! I will probably listen to it again. I do like moving this first theme along (I think the early Borodin recording does this in a very interesting way), but it seems a little rushed. I might come around, but that was my first impression.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    OK, OK...I said earlier that I don’t like syrupy, overmilked Tchaikovsky because the music is enough in itself. But I can’t resist this one because it is so exquisitely musical. I’m a historical recording enthusiast, so I’m accustomed to the sound, but if you can hear past the constricted mono the performance is truly special. Oistrakh’s sweet, singing violin soars angelically - his tone stands out from the other three - and while tempi are slower than the modern norm you feel as if these players are finding all the nuances in every phrase, exploring the music as they go along. The string sound is silken, not wiry as some modern quartets can sound to me. Highly recommended!
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

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

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  15. #2904
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    As it's Friday again....

    Gambling is a controversial subject. Some people think it's a very bad thing indeed, but others, notably a good number of influential billionaires in comfortable tax-havens that politicians like the sound of, reckon it's nothing less than a wonderful source of cashflow and profit, the sole example of a perfectly-efficient, perfectly-predictable market that blithely floats, in its own abstract space, above any concern for quotidian commodities, the mundane externalities of war, famine or plague or much in the way of labour.

    Happily, gambling doesn't just inspire the gloriously wealthy. It has also inspired those of more precarious means, many of whom it hasn't utterly destroyed, and has thus gifted posterity at least two undeniable Russian masterpieces, namely Dostoevsky's "The Gambler" [1], and Prokofiev's opera of the same name.

    And so to this week's selection, Tchaikovky's First (completed) Quartet, for which, like those above, the casino can take the credit. It's a tale that combines potlessness and prudence, friendship and frustration and the tears of an anarchist aristocrat. Happily, it's not a very complicated story.

    At the start of 1871, Tchaikovsky was "short of funds" [2]. For one reason or another, he sought advice from his friend Nikolai Rubinstein who had, only the previous summer, lost all his money at roulette and so, I guess, he thought would know all about financial holes. And Nikolai, possibly naturally, suggested Tchaikovsky should hold something in the nature of a fundraising concert.

    This was an easy suggestion for a performer, especially a pianist, to make. Tchaikovsky, however, was more in the way of a composer, and that posed difficulties. He could, of course, write music. There was no shortage of that. The trouble was that all his good stuff required an orchestra, and orchestras cost money that Tchaikovsky didn't have. There again, he'd need to write something new and intriguing to draw the crowds. The solution that presented itself was a solution in the shape of a new string quartet that might be new and intriguing and would certainly be cheap.

    And that's how it turned out. Tolstoy liked the quartet very much (though not enough to write a book about it), weeping over, I presume, the tasteful handling of "Vanya Sat on the Sofa", a song popular among carpenters. The piece was widely admired, but not universally and Anton Rubinstein, brother of the profligate Nikolai, told Tchaikovsky's chosen publisher not to bother with it. Dissing Tchaikovsky's work, however, seems to have been a habit of Anton's, dating back to the days when he'd tutored Tchaikovsky in the musical arts, and the result, perhaps, of what we now politely call 'artistic differences'. Rubinstein, after all, was something of a composer himself and might, for all we know, have had pockets he thought more needful of lining.

    So, what has this heartwarming tale to offer, apart from the lesson that, if it wasn't for the fearful depths of poverty, filthy lucre would have no well from which to draw up inspiration?

    To my mind, it's left us with a very fine second attempt at a first quartet (if we ignore the student pieces), even though Tchaikovsky thought his first attempt at a second was more successful. It's very Russian, very Tchaikovsky, but still a workable quartet. The first movement is grand, the second haunting, the scherzo's not very long and the finale romps along.

    I have been listening to the New Haydn's Naxos and the Escher's BIS recordings and the former pleases me more on ethical grounds. As Merl, and others, have pointed out, the Eschers seem to take it briskly, and it "never gets boring", but skipping a three-minute repeat in the finale can go a long way to giving that impression without having to resort to youthful vigour. Fortunately, I'm not very judgemental, so I've enjoyed listening to both, regardless of short measure.

    [1] https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2197

    [2] From "The Life & Letters of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" by Modest Chaikovskii [sic], Trans Rosa Newmarch (1906), Chapter VIII*
    https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/45259

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    I have not looked at a score but does not the first movement change between two tempi, the moderato of the "intro" (which returns frequently, I think) and the faster tempo of the "main part"?

    (As the Amadeus quartet disc combines such different pieces, they had to make it about the musicians, I guess).

    I have only two recordings, the Klenke and the 1979 Borodin and I liked both well enough. On my BMG/Melodiya the sound of the latter is fine. The Klenke are a bit faster in the slow movement and overall a bit leaner but the Borodin are not slow or soppy.
    Tchaikovsky is not one of my favorite composers and there were times when I could hardly stand a lot of his music; this has changed again a bit, although smallish doses suffice. By now, I tend to prefer his less "pretentious" works to which the current quartet certainly belongs. Like the string serenade or the ballet scores this is very well crafted music without becoming too trivial and always fun. The quartet is an uncommonly sunny piece for this melancholy composer and I might even prefer it to the brooding e flat minor (usually considered the best one, and it probably is the best overall) and the trio (that I find overlong, this seems to be the most popular chamber piece of PIT) because of its natural flow and total lack of pretention or "fake depth".

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  18. #2906
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    Quote Originally Posted by SearsPoncho View Post
    As usual, great summary by Merl and entertaining commentary on the album covers by Steve. I'm not sure what the Talich cover is supposed to represent. Perhaps the Borodin cover is Chernobyl.
    Not Florence, at least not how I remember it.
    Last edited by FastkeinBrahms; May-07-2021 at 12:18.

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  20. #2907
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    I have not looked at a score but does not the first movement change between two tempi, the moderato of the "intro" (which returns frequently, I think) and the faster tempo of the "main part"?
    So now I've had to look at a score.

    Officially, the first movement starts moderato, and carries on like that for 162 bars, which would suggest the answer is no. At least until the last page and a half, where it switches to Allegro ma non troppo, and then goes accelerando for the last twelve bars.

    Within those 162 bars (including both intro and main part), however, there are a good few poco piu mossos and con fuocos, a largamento or two and a repeated a tempo (at the end of the repeated section), so it's shifting around a fair bit, depending on artistic judgement, but possibly not as much as it seems to be.

    Why it seems to be is, I guess, because it's written in 9/8, and so has a twitchy, tripletty character that's highlighted in the semiquavery bits but which vanishes in the chorale-like sections; so I suspect the impression we're given is as much a result of changing note values as of changing tempi.

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    Senior Member BlackAdderLXX's Avatar
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    Apologies for my comparative lack of involvement of late. Ever since the weather has changed I have been working outside a lot getting the yard ready for the spring garden as well as digging trenches for drainage. North Carolina clay does not shed water very well. At any rate, I have the Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Borodin album by the Emerson Quartet and really enjoy it. I was glad for this pick as I have not listened to the Tchaikovsky SQ#1 often. What a lovely work. The cello line close to the beginning of the first movement is beautiful. The Andante with the interplay between the violin and the plucked strings is beautiful if just a little schmaltzy as played by the Emersons, but hey they're tight. The Finale is very exciting. I don't know why I don't listen to this more.

    Quote Originally Posted by StevehamNY View Post
    This is still broadly on topic, in that I'd very much like to hear how the participants of this thread came to be here, discussing classical string quartets with such insight and affection. I have my own unusual path here (for now, suffice to say that a 20-year-old me would be shocked to hear of this interest in quartets; hell, the me of just two years ago would be a bit surprised), but right now I'm just wondering what it is about this particular corner of the music world that brought you here!
    When I was 19 I went to community college as a music major for a year before dropping out and getting into construction. I started listening to classical music at that time. I've always listened to classical in the 30+ years that had passed but when the world ended last year I got back into CM with an intensity I had not had since my college days. Any search of "best [type of classical music]" on the interwebs will eventually land one here on TC and after I found myself reading a few posts here I joined up. From there I started working through the various 'TOP' lists here and one of the more prominent ones is the SQ list. Anyway, after hearing a few of the top SQs I ended up joining in this thread as I love the medium. To me one of the strengths of the genre is the generation of art within the restrictions of the four parts allowed. To me it's fantastic. And the folks here are great, knowledgeable and don't run me off when I say ignorant things. So there!
    My new years resolution is to buy less new music and listen more to the absolutely STUPID amount of music I already have.

  23. #2909
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmina Banana View Post
    Merl,
    I noticed you left the Amadeus off the list. Did they not make the cut?
    I really didn't think the Amadeus' got this one (they were very high in my last SQ review) . They play it very straight and with little colour, to my ears. Some might like that approach but I like character in SQ performances, especially Tchaikovsky.
    Last edited by Merl; May-07-2021 at 16:25.

  24. #2910
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    I really didn't think the Amadeus' got this one (they were very high in my last SQ review) . They play it very straight and with little colour, to my ears. Some might like that approach but I like character in SQ performances, especially Tchaikovsky.
    Fair enough. I remember liking it, but I'm going to go back for another listen. Sometimes, it is like a completely different experience when I go back to a recording.

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