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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #3826
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Great choice, Merl, this is one of my favorite quartets as well! And you're right that there are many great recordings available, by both Czech and non-Czech ensembles.

    But I'll leave it to you all to argue over those details.

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  3. #3827
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    A year and a half in and I think we can finally say we have covered all of the most famous string quartet composers! Its absence has been so conspicuous that I could have sworn there was a tacit agreement that nominating it would be taboo. But I’m certainly not complaining - it’s one of my favorites as well and Janáček is just such a composer of quality - his piano music, mass, and operas are just solid gold in my estimation; shame he wasn’t very prolific. Here’s the obligatory Trout recommendations:

    1. Janáček Quartet (1963)
    2. Smetana Quartet (1976)
    3. Škampa Quartet (2001)
    4. Talich Quartet (1985)
    5. Pavel Haas Quartet (2007)
    6. Hagen Quartet (1988)
    7. Smetana Quartet (1965)
    8. Pražák Quartet (1997)
    9. Panocha Quartet (1995)
    10. Mandelring Quartet (2009)
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Aug-08-2021 at 01:12.
    "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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  5. #3828
    Senior Member sbmonty's Avatar
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    Outstanding choice! Looking forward to listening and learning.

  6. #3829
    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up buying new music.

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  8. #3830
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    Well, it's about time! I love the Talich Quartet recording. There's some thrilling music in this one, and it seems that there's almost always something outrageous going on. Nearly every bar is a big, impassioned moment.
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Aug-08-2021 at 07:44.
    "It should have worked." - Arthur Carlson

  9. #3831
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    Great choice! I had considered the Janacek as well when it had been my turn.

    Back to op.130.
    A main difference to suites is that they have usually alle movements in the same key. Divertimenti are not. The quartet follows a key pattern and there are probably relations between important secondary keys of the large outer movements and the whole.

    Movements: B flat - B flat minor/major - D flat - G - E flat - B flat

    main secondary keys for the
    first mvt.: G flat
    Fugue: G flat and A flat
    Rondo: F and A flat

    This is a fairly wide compass of sometimes rather distant keys for Beethoven. op.127 and op.132 are more restricted/conventional (A flat =subdominant for the slow movement in op.127, F lydian and A major in op.132).
    It also almost completely avoids the most common secondary key, the dominant (F) and the major secondary keys of the outer movements do not appear in the middle movements.

    So I'd guess it is supposed to be varied and colorful but not "random". But I am not sufficiently versed in harmony and stuff to further look into this aspect.

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  11. #3832
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    There's a few things I tend to look for in any performance of Janacek's 2nd. These are not always dealbeakers if I don't hear them but make a big difference to my enjoyment of the quartet.

    1st movement - the cello and viola. Their role often gets overlooked with the greater prominence of violins but Janacek clearly wanted them to convey his emotions in the opening movement. Key to any performance is huge passion carried by both. The viola role often reminds me of a heart fluttering.
    2nd movement - this is an adagio that should sound loving and never at all slightly melancholic. The conversational elements need to be especially strong without the violins dominating too much.
    3rd movement - my favourite movement and the lynch pin of any great recording. There is a dealbreaker here in the anguished cry roughly 3 minutes in. If it doesn't sound like an impassioned cry and reminds me more of someone shouting at the ice-cream van to come back then I can happily ignore the rest.
    4th - it must dance and skip with slavic charm. Its not necessary to be a slavic ensemble but just to recreate that folk-dance bounce is essential to rounding this incredible quartet off. Tempi is not the be all and end all here but very slow finales tend to lose momentum.

    So the key for me is passion, technical excellence and a feeling of 'let's go for it'. The best recordings hit for the boundaries and tend to sound very spontaneous, the worst tightly controlled and stiff. It's a quartet made up of musical fragments bound together by Janacek's engaging rhythms. Over-do the drama and it can sound highly nuanced and artificial (eg. Dorics) underplay the passion and it sounds emotionless and dull (eg. ABQ). As I said, this is possibly my favourite SQ and I've listened to more recordings of it than I can shake a stick at. I hope y'all find a recording that resonates with you as much as my top choices have done over the years.
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-08-2021 at 13:15.

  12. #3833
    Senior Member sbmonty's Avatar
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    Just listening to the Škampa Quartet now. Very exciting account. The other two I own are the Pavel Haas and Jerusalem Quartets. They will get some play later today. Oddly I don't have the Tákacs. They are usually my first choice.

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  14. #3834
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I have only one recording of the Janacek quartets by the Schoenberg's paired with Szymanowski on Chandos and it's one of my favorite chamber music discs. The Schoenberg's have a beautiful sound and they tend to emphasize the poetic aspects in music with their graceful approach but sometimes they strike me as a bit too laid back on certain pieces. Merl's pick is a good opportunity to focus on Janacek No.2 alone and get to know it better. I took note of the blog list and I look forward to multiple listens of this quartet throughout the week. I'll definitely check out the Talichs, and a few others.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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  16. #3835
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I adore both of Janacek's quartets but the 1st and 2nd are different beasts, even though they share some of Janacek's quirks of not following themes in the traditional ways and using 'interrupting' voices. The first is more of a wordless story, almost operatic in its conception, the 2nd far more emotional, fractured and intense.

    I've read quite a bit about Janacek in the past and he seems a complicated, intense, fascinating, contrary and difficult man to get near - highly anti-authoritarian to his mentors yet demanding and uber-strict to his pupils. He loved women (as we know) and was, allegedly, an early supporter of women's rights and social justice . Many of his peers often mentioned his staccato-type speech, obsession with speech-melodies and volatile temper and say this affected much of his work. He hated Smetana's music and worshipped Dvorak.

    When I did my comparisons I tended to listen to the 1st and 3rd movements of the 2nd quartet quite intently as there's so much going on with the inner dialogue. Janacek's obsession with this younger woman must have seriously screwed him up as there's so much passion and inner-torment in the 2nd quartet. Without this obsession we wouldn't have this masterpiece to listen to today.
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-08-2021 at 17:39. Reason: Typos

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  18. #3836
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    This quartet has one of the most fascinating backstories of any piece we’ve done. Unrequited love for a married woman 40 years his junior; passionate enough to (according to Wiki) model three characters in his operas off of her, devote the great Glagolitic Mass to her, and characterize the prominent viola part (originally viola d’amore, interestingly enough - I wonder what inspired him to use such an archaic instrument) in this quartet as the object of his affections. Is each movement a different “intimate letter?” Is the third movement really, as Milan Skampa suggests, a lullaby to “the son they never had?” I’d say this is almost as interesting as Dante/Beatrice and Clara/Robert in terms of artistic romances. This music is incredibly passionate; the perfect object for the “speech rhythms” which the composer perfected in all of his ouevre, and the folk idioms ooze a perfect sincerity. Would anyone be able to tell that this is a series of “love letters” otherwise? Maybe not, but at least we have a composer-designated nickname and story rather than the silly speculations which are often hoisted upon what is surely meant to be “pure music.”
    "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. #3837
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    Here's one of those in depth lecture/performance videos akin the one I uploaded for Berg's Lyric Suite but this presentation includes healthy doses of humor which makes it highly enjoyable as well as informative.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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  22. #3838
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    If ever, ever, ever, ever, ever there was a quartet that needed Burbage's Friday summary, providing historical context and detailing the relationships, romances, and influences of all relevant parties, this is the one. Forget the Bat-signal; we need the Burbage-signal! Hope he reappears for this one.

    I agree with Merl's assessment that this is not a quartet for the timid or those preoccupied with impressing others with subtlety and nuance. I want a recording that goes for the gusto and never lets the foot off the pedal. I found that in the Talich recording, and the audio quality is excellent.

    By the way, Janacek's music is so unique that I can't ever imagine confusing his music with that of another composer. I'm not even sure how I would describe or classify it. It's interesting that whenever I look up a Janacek recording on Amazon, the additional recommendations they suggest are usually modern, and frequently atonal composers. Even the mighty Amazon hasn't figured him out. There's no composer I can think of who would provide an obvious reference point for comparative analysis. The only one thing I can think of, especially for this quartet, is Romantic Schoenberg. Imagine if the Schoenberg of the Verklarte Nacht never took that left turn and kept writing more extreme episodic, tone poem-like music of maximum emotionalism, without completing abandoning tonality, while increasing the level of outrageous expression and...nah! That doesn't really describe it either.

    Thanks, Merl! This is one of the jewels of the string quartet repertoire.
    "It should have worked." - Arthur Carlson

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  24. #3839
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SearsPoncho View Post
    Imagine if the Schoenberg of the Verklarte Nacht [sic] never took that left turn and kept writing more extreme episodic, tone poem-like music of maximum emotionalism...while increasing the level of outrageous expression and...
    But...that's exactly what Schoenberg did do! No "left turn" was involved at all.

    ...without completing abandoning tonality...
    Oh. Well, in fact he didn't quite completely abandon it... This was an emergent consequence of the above...

    But I do very much agree: Janáček is unique, inimitable.
    Last edited by Knorf; Aug-08-2021 at 18:42. Reason: Better living through edits

  25. #3840
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    can you hear this in op 130?
    (sorry for reviving Beethoven, but wanted to quickly answer this. Looking forward to Janacek)

    Only in a loosey-goosey, philosophical way with no evidence to back up my claims.
    Here is one way I might describe this:
    The first movement has the hallmarks of being a large scale opening sonata movement. Except it is unsuccessful in establishing Bb major as it should (here is where I would include 50 pages of musical examples to prove my point, but let’s skip that for now). The second movement, even for a fleeting scherzo type movement of Beethoven’s is just too short and insubstantial to balance this first movement. And it shifted us to Bb minor. OK. As long we get right back to Bb major we’ll be OK. What’s this? Db major? It seems wrong, but it is a lovely, relatively uncomplicated gracious andante and we settle right in to this new key. Next, shocking change to the brighter key of G major and even more pleasant, easy-going maybe even banal dance tune. The way this movement is structured, it is possibly the most convincing in establishing its key. We have arrived at our new home and everything is so much fun and relaxing.
    So far, the piece has had a journey from serious sonata to increasingly frivolous music in increasingly distant keys.
    I guess one could see this as establishing our second theme.
    Then the cavatina comes along and, with its gravity and its gravitational pull seats us firmly in Eb major. A satisfying ending. But it can’t be over because it is a slow movement and it is in the wrong key. So let’s call this the end of the exposition.
    According to my scenario, we will need one heck of a development to get us back on track and erase the confusion about whether this is a serious sonata or some light-hearted dance pieces so the last movement is, of course, a fugue, the most serious of all music and, just like any self-respecting development, it goes through many harmonic and thematic confusion before finally taking us home to Bb major. Ironically, the ending seems neither serious nor completely satisfying. Maybe it was taintied by too much Alla Tedesca early on. Whatever happened to the triumphant endings of the middle period?

    These are just my lazy impressions of this piece, not a summary of my dissertation. Idle speculation. But I feel like late Beethoven is often connected by its very unconnectedness. Both within movements and in the complete work.

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