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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1006
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Wow, this is a great quartet! Just listened to starthrower’s recommended recording of the Schoenberg Quartet. It is much more “romantic” sounding than I was expecting from Szymanowski; so luscious and lyrical throughout. Some of it actually reminded me of Tristan und Isolde, while some sounds on the verge of Schoenberg. It’s compact and listenable overall. I love it. Here’s some more info from AllMusic that I found interesting:

    The earlier half of Szymanowski's career saw him adopt the hot-blooded, erotic romanticism of Scriabin and take an interest in music of the Near East. However, by the time World War I ended, he had shifted to a much less lush, harmonically harder-edged, yet more tonal, musical language. Philosophically, Szymanowski during the same period lost his interest in the ego-driven Romanticism of Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Nietzsche. And personally his life changed drastically, as well: Polish independence and Communist seizure of his family property in the Ukraine required him, for the first time, to make his entire living as a musician, composer, and teacher.

    The quartet is in three movements and totals a bit less than 20 minutes. Szymanowski had intended a four-movement work ending with a fully fugal final movement, but he dropped the final movement and moved the scherzo (which does have a fugato section) from second to final position. The first and longest movement -- nearly half the length of the quartet as published -- is in a typical sonata-allegro form with a slow introduction. Its main expression markings are Lento assai; Allegro moderato. The opening slow section is close to the exotic, perfumed style of Szymanowski's earlier music; its melody has modal elements. The fast main body of the movement is Scriabinesque in its chromaticism, in the passionate nature of its main themes, and in the way the composer works them out. Despite the depth and passion of the music, the actual writing for quartet is entirely appropriate to the chamber ensemble: the music retains the clarity, transparency, and conversational nature of the greatest quartets.

    The second movement, Andantino semplice, in modo d'una canzone, is, for a considerable stretch, in the form of a lyric melody for the first violin, with the remaining instruments forming a trio to accompany it. The last half of the expression marking means "in the style of a song," and that is an apt description of the movement up until the contrasting central section, which is sweet and mysterious at the same time. The return of the main melody does not dispel this new emotional quality, which is not resolved as the opening of the concluding movement intrudes.

    This movement, Scherzando alla burlesca: vivace non troppo, begins with a quiet unison passage, then another unison -- loud this time -- that throws the movement into fast motion. There is a fugal passage, but this is interrupted by a sardonic waltz whose surface banality anticipates similar moments in Shostakovich's music. The music ends quietly, and perhaps just a bit anticlimactically, as the opening part of the quartet seems to set up a need for the larger-scale finale Szymanowski originally intended.
    "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

  2. #1007
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    That first movement is lovely, isn't it, ACB? Love the pizzicatos in the 3rd (but you know I'm a sucker for pizzicato).
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-28-2020 at 00:22.

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  4. #1008
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    A bit more info on the Szymanowski....

    "Szymanowski’s String Quartet No 1 in C major Op 37 was written in 1917, and its composition was drastically interrupted by the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in October (it was finally performed for the first time in 1924). None of this is apparent in the piece, however, which together with the immediately preceding Piano Sonata No 3 marks the flowering of a clear—and refined, as well as vigorous—classicizing impulse in Szymanowski’s music. The tonally framed Lento assai puts forward an intensely post-Wagnerian, French-influenced lyricism in the guise of a slow introduction. The idiom here beautifully balances enriched diatonic harmony with chromatic voice-leading. The Allegro moderato, following continuously without a break, marks the beginning of a fluid and at times pungently dramatic sonata movement which arrives at a taut and original balance of elements. It shows great deftness in weaving together a range of different materials in different textures to create a sonata pattern that has a powerfully episodic and gestural, as well as thematic, structure. Characteristically for the composer, there are rapid swings of mood and tempo. The fascinating intensifying passage marked scherzando alla burlesca stands somewhat as a free contrasting development, centrally placed within the movement. It is almost an independent episode, showing how sonata functions may be freely reinterpreted with wit and fantasy, yet still to serious purpose. In context, it is breathtaking.

    The songlike slow movement in E major (‘in modo d’una canzone’) shows just how vividly the composer could present even his most diatonic melody, with a textural and harmonic light and shade that somehow, for all the passing moments of a darker and more poignant colour, never obscure the beautifully simple lyric thread of the movement as a whole. The classicizing impulse is here well caught: expressed with feeling and full of subtlety, without a hint of dryness. The finale has wit and drive, as well as thematic resource, and is characterized by an almost boisterous energy. This reflects the fact that it was originally written as the scherzo of a four-movement work; but Szymanowski finally decided, as late as 1924–5, that it should stand as the finale of a three-movement quartet. After an arresting ‘Beethovenian’ opening gesture, it presents an unassuming diatonic fugal theme in 3/4 on successive entries each a minor third apart from the last (C–E flat–F sharp–A). This then gives the layered ‘contrapuntal harmony’ something of the feel of an axial polymodality, à la Bartók. The movement is concise yet offers a succession of contrasting episodes of great rhythmic and textural variety. We may observe that the idea of fugue is something of a conceit here (remembering that this was at first a scherzo): the composer largely ignores the conventions of fugal layout in favour of episodic variation and rhythmic development. New accompaniments and new counterpoints are constantly interjected, serving to project, often with considerable force, the varied lineaments of the theme. The course of the final peroration begins fast and exhilarating; but the music unexpectedly winds down, ending quietly with a witty pizzicato cadence into C major."

  5. #1009
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    The Schoenberg Quartet has a way of injecting a romantic feeling into the works they perform and I love this. They have such a warm sound. I need to get busy and pick up their Berg and Webern discs while they are still in print. I bought their Arnold Schoenberg box last December.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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  7. #1010
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I've listened to the Goldner, Carmina, Schoenberg and Meccore accounts of the SQ up to now and all are very good but the Meccore has a touch more vitality, is better played and recorded up to now. The Schoenberg is a close 2nd but I wouldn't thumb my nose at any of these. All have their plus points. I'll go to a few versions I own tomorrow.

    0825646074716.jpg

  8. #1011
    Senior Member Simplicissimus's Avatar
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    I like the Szymanowski SQ No. 1 a lot overall. I’ve listened three times to the Schoenberg Quartet’s recording and will turn today to recordings by the three other ensembles available on my service: Goldner, Silesian, and Quartetto Prometeo.

    The first and second movements are full of rich and beautiful chords. The rhythms are just brilliant and the interplay among the parts is fascinating. The melodic themes I find compelling. However, I find the third movement harsh and strident in many places. One critic I read said that the Schoenberg Quartet’s first violin has “intonation problems” in this recording. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion working on me, but I hear a more sibilant and squeaky tone in that part than I would like. Great playing overall, though.

  9. #1012
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    The Szymanowski is quickly becoming a favorite quartet of mine. Such rich, haunting, expressive harmonies! I do agree with Simplicissimus that the finale is maybe a bit disappointing compared to the first two movements but it does the job nicely. Of the two I’ve heard I like the Goldner Quartet on Naxos a bit better than the Schoenberg for their fuller tone.

    Next week’s nomination will go to annaw, then, unless we have anyone else step up by then, we’ve come to the end of this cycle of nominators. I was planning on just going back to the top of the order, which would mean starting with me and proceeding back through. If anyone else has any other ideas on how to approach this, let me know, but otherwise I think that will work nicely.
    "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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  11. #1013
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Yeah, I agree with ACB and Simply that the last movement is the weakest (I've always felt that) but it's a very good SQ nonetheless. I found a few more recordings on streaming services today so I listened to the Prometeo, Carmina and Silesian recordings. The Prometeo is a fine account if a little understated. The Silesian is better and very impressive, only let down by the recorded sound which I find a little congested but it's a great performance. The biggest shock, for me was the Carmina account. I'd never heard this one but had heard great things about it (it won a few prestigious awards). I was surprised on listening that the Carminas were a little unengaging, especially in the 3rd movement. Yes they play beautifully but I found the recording a bit homogenised. A few more of my recordings to listen to tomorrow and then I'm done with this lovely quartet.

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  13. #1014
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    It took me quite long to choose a quartet but I decided to go with Carl Nielsen: String Quartet No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 14, FS 23. Nielsen's is quite different from his fellow Scandinavian, Sibelius. Nielsen's compositions are sometimes a bit more uplifting and outgoing in their nature and have more modernist traits. I like to think that the difference between Nielsen's and Sibelius's style is a good representation of the difference between more relaxed Danes and introverted Finns (I'm half Finn - I'm allowed to say such things ). The 3rd quartet reflects the very energetic nature of his compositional style and is very witty throughout. He wrote a wonderful contrapuntal section in the first movement and a marvellous Andante sostenuto following it. It's also connected with a rather unfortunate incident which Nielsen recalled many years later in one article:

    I had composed a string quartet. The first two movements had already been copied by the music copyist; I had tried them out with my comrades, and we agreed that it was a work with which I had made a great effort. Now I also had the last two movements finished, so packed it all into a large roll, took my bike and set off along Gothersgade towards Nørrevold, where the music copyist lived. When I got to Rosenborg Brøndanstalt, I saw a vehicle with two horses, one of which had fallen over and lay floundering with its legs in over the pavement. The driver looked very helpless, as the horse had ended up lying in a strange lopsided position. Since as a young man I had worked with horses and had often myself been a driver, I jumped off my bike, put it up against the Brøndanstalt, pressed my music roll into the hands of a boy who was standing in the crowd, and asked him to hold it for a moment. It was only the work of a couple of minutes to cut one of the traces of the cart over, get a horse blanket under the forelegs of the horse and get it up on its legs; but when I got back the boy had vanished, probably into the Vognmagergade area, with my great work. I rode home in despair and told my wife about my loss. Then she got the idea that we should go up into the neighbourhood and arouse some attention about the matter among the young people of the streets, and in time we succeeded in gathering a very large crowd to whom we announced that whoever could find the boy with the roll of music would get a large reward [...] I never got my work back, but had to reconstruct it laboriously from various notes and sketches and from memory.
    Two early reviews:
    “The E flat major quartet and its indisputable mastery, his greatest triumph in this music genre, powerful and manly, profoundly poetic, gracefully pastoral, courageously ambitious.” and “The instruments are given independent treatment throughout; everywhere life prevails, although the melodic line and phrasing exhibit great self-will. The clearest example of this is the slow movement with its fountain of melody and joyful inwardness. When it comes to richness of ideas the first movement is probably the finest. As far as the musical ideas are concerned, the last movement is not wholly successful, although in its form it exhibits both succinctness and mastery. At all events the work is noteworthy.”

    There are also a few recordings of the work:

    1. Kontra Quartet (BIS)
    2. Oslo String Quartet (Naxos)
    3. Danish String Quartet
    4. Young Danish String Quartet

    I know it's a bit early so don't be bothered with it this week! I’m now finally going to listen to Szymanowski as well as I’m on a ship to Finland to, among other things, visit Sibelius’s home Ainola.
    Last edited by annaw; Jul-31-2020 at 11:41.

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    I've listened to the Schoenbergs' recording that I have in my collection a few times during the week and I concur with a lot of what has been said before - this is a quartet I have liked for a long time, and I have enjoyed revisiting this week, a good choice.
    I have been distracted with other things, plus other musical priorities this week so haven't branched out and sampled other recordings - my loss I'm sure, but I am happy enough with the Schoenbergs' recording.

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  16. #1016
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I had the Camerata Quartet recording and am not sure how it compares with others. I have listened to the Schoenberg Quartet that was linked to and found it more lush ... but the lushness of Szymanowski is often something I have mixed feelings about. I sometimes wish for a little more "edge" (as one gets from Scriabin) so I am sticking with the Camerata, which I have always enjoyed. I don't know if it is the performance but I don't find the last movement weaker than the rest, either. It gives the work some muscle and sinew.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Jul-31-2020 at 12:41.

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  18. #1017
    Senior Member Iota's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Some of it actually reminded me of Tristan und Isolde
    I agree, the first movement certainly felt Tristan-inflected to me too, and also some of the more intense moments recalled very much for me the Adagio of Mahler 10.

    I listened to the Schoenberg and Silesian Quartets and found I preferred the Silesian for its greater clarity. I like the last movement and the implied ellipsis at the end, though I must admit it does feel kind of incomplete. Sibelius also sometimes just seems to stop in mid-sentence to great effect I think, though for whatever reason, his music never sounds incomplete to my ears.

    Anyway very good to hear this quartet, which is another I hadn't heard before.

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  20. #1018
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    I’m on a ship to Finland to, among other things, visit Sibelius’s home Ainola.
    SO JEALOUS! One of my bucket list destinations. Stay safe and have fun
    "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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  22. #1019
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post

    There are also a few recordings of the work:

    1. Kontra Quartet (BIS)
    2. Oslo String Quartet (Naxos)
    3. Danish String Quartet
    4. Young Danish String Quartet
    There's also a few other older recordings of the Nielsen SQ that are now OOP but worth hearing if you can...
    .
    Copenhagen Quartet (late 60s)
    Carl Nielsen Quartet (late 70s DG complete set of the SQs)
    Erling Bloch Quartet (post-war mono - search 'Carl Nielsen Historic vol. 4' on Spotify)
    Zapolski Quartet (Chandos 2000)
    Last edited by Merl; Jul-31-2020 at 16:10.

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  24. #1020
    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    I'm glad everybody is enjoying the Szymanowski quartet. I never thought of the last movement as being weak but as one post mentioned, I like pizzicato. I haven't listened to any of the other recordings. I'm not a big enough quartet enthusiast to be seeking out multiple recordings. I do own quite a few sets by various composers so if this thread keeps going I can contribute something else. I'd be interested in the feedback on some other quartets I have in mind.
    "In the beginning there was noise. And the noise begat rhythm. And the rhythm begat everything else." - Mickey Hart

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