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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #1081
    Senior Member sbmonty's Avatar
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    Listened to the Takács, the Hungarian, Chiara, Tátrai and Zehetmair this week. This was not a quartet with which I was very familiar, making comparative listening a bit more difficult. I think overall I preferred the Hungarian Quartet. Refined, more warm approach. But the Takács and the Tátrai were nice counterweights. I'm spending some time listening to the rest of Bartók's quartets now. Excellent choice. Thanks.

    Mozart or Martinů would both be great. Lots of terrific Mozart quartets!

  2. #1082
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    I've just listened to the Casals Quartet recording of the Bartok 4 via Qobuz - fabulous, the disc has been added to my wish list, thanks Mandryka.

    They manage to make the quartet sound more of a whole rather than five movements, if that makes sense, with a flow to the piece which for me is better than the others I have heard.
    Less agresssive attack at times but with phrases delineated from each other it has a 'staccato' feel to the first movement.
    Overall I would describe the performance as cool, understated but with great insight.
    Last edited by Malx; Aug-14-2020 at 16:24.

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  4. #1083
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I have the Casals to listen to either tonight or tomorrow. Its queued up ready to hear on the laptop along with Keller and another one (forgotten which one).
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-14-2020 at 18:03.

  5. #1084
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Malx View Post
    I've just listened to the Casals Quartet recording of the Bartok 4 via Qobuz - fabulous, the disc has been added to my wish list, thanks Mandryka.

    They manage to make the quartet sound more of a whole rather than five movements, if that makes sense, with a flow to the piece which for me is better than the others I have heard.
    Less agresssive attack at times but with phrases delineated from each other it has a 'staccato' feel to the first movement.
    Overall I would describe the performance as cool, understated but with great insight.
    I listened to it a few days ago and I also agree that it wasn’t the most fiery interpretation but the playing was very beautiful. I liked the last movement particularly!
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-14-2020 at 20:02.

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  7. #1085
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    It’s strange how we all hear different things. Yes it’s well executed etc. But I find the Casals recording somehow matter of fact in the crucial first movement. The last two movements are more incandescent, bravura, but the opening coolth is a deal breaker for me,.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-14-2020 at 21:00.

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  9. #1086
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    It’s strange how we all hear different things. Yes it’s well executed etc. But I find the Casals recording somehow matter of fact in the crucial first movement. The last two movements are more incandescent, bravura, but the opening coolth is a deal breaker for me,.
    I agree that the Casals get 'better' as the piece goes on but the coolness of the first movement for me contributes to a valid alternate view of the piece.
    Now, not being able to read a score I cannot comment on what Bartok was looking for from a performance, and if the Casals are wide of the mark then sobeit.
    However in a months time I might have a different view of the relative merits of recordings as I do believe mood at the time of listening has a bearing on my response to performances.

  10. #1087
    Senior Member Simplicissimus's Avatar
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    I've only listened to three recordings of Bartok 4, but I enjoyed listening several times to each. After a couple of years not listening to this SQ, I discovered with joy that it excites and entertains me more than ever.

    My reference recording is the Emersons', which I have had on CD for about 30 years. I listened to it once and then started listening to the Alexanders. Then I switched to the Guarneris. The differences among these three performances were easily noticeable. To me, the Guarneris are scratchy and percussive, with machine-like rhythms that made me think they had in mind some connection between this 1928 SQ and Fritz Lang's 1927 dystopian film Metropolis. I didn't like this recording. I do like the Guarneris' Mozart very much, so this was an interesting new angle on them though a disappointment for me. I liked the Alexanders a lot. They have a full, rich, and confident sound. However, I really love the Emersons' interpretation of this SQ. After thinking about it for a couple of days, I've arrived at this idea: The Emersons seem to have pegged their interpretation of this SQ to Bartok's entire oeuvre, including orchestral works like Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta and The Miraculous Mandarin. Their interpretation just sounds to me the most... well, Bartok. The Alexanders and Guarneris sounded to me like they conceived their interpretation based upon the score (of course) and the other five SQs. But not the rest of Bartok. Anyway, that's my impression.

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  12. #1088
    Senior Member BlackAdderLXX's Avatar
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    Sorry I've been absent of late. Real life has been extremely busy for several weeks running now and has really cut into my active listening time. I guess I have two quertets to listen to. Thanks @Merl for doing the heavy lifting. Now I can just pick one of the good recordings!
    I'm realizing that my answer to the "favorite recording" question is usually Bruno Walter.

  13. #1089
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I am going for Mozart for the next week's quartet:

    Quartet 19 K 465, "Dissonance".

    It is probably one that many of us know well but still listening in a more focused was and exchanging thought about it in a group is not quite the same as just listening for pleasure.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I am going for Mozart for the next week's quartet:

    Quartet 19 K 465, "Dissonance".

    It is probably one that many of us know well but still listening in a more focused was and exchanging thought about it in a group is not quite the same as just listening for pleasure.
    A child falls and grazes his knee slightly while playing with his friends. There are tears and he cries. An adult takes him on his knee and gives him a cuddle, dabs his nose. After 30 seconds the child jumps down and starts to play again, full of smiles, as if nothing had ever happened. All tears forgotten.

    Why should this trope, a slow dissonant prelude to basically cheerful jaunty music, be so common in classical music, here in Mozart, but there are many examples in Haydn and even Beethoven did it in the 4th symphony? What’s it about? What does the intro tell us about the way to play the rest of the movement.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Aug-15-2020 at 17:06.

  16. #1091
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I have some thoughts about the different recordings of the Bartok that I have been listening to. All together I listened to ten different accounts. A couple - the Arditti and the Heath - I found good and satisfying but not really exceptional. I am glad to have them but do not really think they give me much that other recordings give more strongly.

    The Emersons' account is exceptionally well played but I find it a little lacking in character. All in all I found it efficient and rather controlled.

    The Juilliard's 1963 recording couldn't be more different. If there is one word it brings to my mind it is wild. The sound is a little old - I think this shows most in the quartet's lovely middle (slow) movement - but this does not impede the impact of a remarkable performance.

    The Takacs' recording is my idea of perfection! You couldn't call it wild but it is still filled with the spirit of the music (and that is, I think, a rather wild spirit). The slow movement is remarkable. This account seems to have it all.

    The Cuarteto Casals' account is a bit different. Perhaps it is gentler - not a problem as such for me - and it is rather analytical. There is lots good solo and ensemble playing in it and it does seem to tell me things about the work that are genuinely new to me. It almost left me wondering if it is the same work. It is an undeniably (to me!) attractive performance and one I will want to hear quite often (along with the Ligeti 1 that is its main coupling). But it doesn't for me plumb the depths of the piece and some of the others.

    The Tatrai's recording is, like the Juilliard's, fairly old and can (as others have noted) sound a little rough (the sound rather than the ensemble). It has an earthiness that I like a lot. Some seem to have found it going off in different angles (have I understood correctly?) but I don't really hear that so much as a sense of almost improvisation.

    I've run out of time for writing and will have to come back later or tomorrow for some brief words about the Tokyo and the Vegh recordings.
    Last edited by Enthusiast; Aug-15-2020 at 18:47.

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  18. #1092
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Got the chance to finish this week of Bartok with the Hungarian on DG and the Casals on Harmonia Mundi. Both excellent in their own way. I thought the Hungarian sounded very idiomatic and secure but perhaps a bit bland at first, but the performance exerted a magnetism on me and I just couldn’t stop listening. They tend to delineate the textures very clearly so you can hear the independence and complexity of the line, and their slow movement was amazing - not soporific like some others, they infuse it with a unique intensity. Lovely. The Casals sounded quite different. They have some very unique phrasing and lots of energy and the impression I got was one of youthful creativity. A very expressive performance. I would still stick with the Takacs for my desert island, but it was great to hear a good handful of versions this week and I’m glad to know that everyone seemed enjoy it.

    On to Mozart! Mozart is not among my absolute favorite composers, but his quartets are one of my favorite bodies of work by him. That being said I have never really been impressed by the “Dissonance" beyond the startlingly progressive (and seemingly out of place) introduction, preferring several other of his quartets. The Italiano has been my preferred set of the quartets but I can’t say I’ve done much comparison.
    "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. #1093
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I finally got round to listening to Casals and Keller and whilst both are impressive they didn't make an impact on my very top picks for this quartet which are...........

    Must hear

    Hungarian
    Vegh (both 50s and 70s recordings)
    Mikrokosmos
    Hagen
    Guarneri
    Emerson
    Di Cremona
    Tokyo
    Tatrai (even though I'm still not sure if I like it... You still must hear this recording)

    The Extra-Special (must have)

    Takacs - the Takacs have it all, charm, poise, aggression, incredible vitality. Just a superb complete recording that is beautifully shaped and feels 'just right'.
    Zehetmair - this was top of the pile throughout and missed the top spot by a whisker. I adore this recording.
    Chiara - this has got so much feeling it feels personal. Gorgeous recording and an amazing achievement to play from memory with this amount of skill.


    41FBqnXw3KL._SL1500_.jpg
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    71HnWINlhjL._SL1500_.jpg

    My top pick


    Arcadia - this brilliantly recorded Chandos disc stole my heart for the top spot and is one of the finest SQ recordings I've heard recently. Its a truly immense performance, sitting slightly on the more lyrical side of the fence but really highlighting the poetic side of this quartet. A stunning performance from a cracking cycle (I listened to it the other day) and one which took me by surprise.

    71wZiLT VdL._SL1500_.jpg

    So there goes another SQ. As the next one is Mozart and there are tons of recordings I'm going to only listen to a few and be very selective on those I like, otherwise I could be listening 24/7.
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-15-2020 at 23:57.

  21. #1094
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enthusiast View Post
    I am going for Mozart for the next week's quartet:

    Quartet 19 K 465, "Dissonance".

    It is probably one that many of us know well but still listening in a more focused was and exchanging thought about it in a group is not quite the same as just listening for pleasure.
    Great choice! It's a lovely piece. For me, it also has special meaning coming right after Bartók! I'll explain.

    I am recently retired as a Professor of Music ("full", with tenure), employed as a composer and a bassoonist, and among my teaching assignments was orchestration, one of my favorite topics. I typically taught the subject as an upper-division seminar, meaning for students in the last two years of a music major and typically relatively small class sizes (usually 15-20). I loved teaching it! It's an endlessly fascinating topic, especially in how a composer's style is identifiable as much or more via understanding how they orchestrate as it is via their melodic and harmonic language.

    In the end, to learn orchestration and all its subtleties, score study and active listening are absolutely essential. The idiosyncrasies, challenges, requirements, limits, and possibilities of each instrument in their various combinations simply will not stick in one's ear and mind without this. As a result, I always gave copious listening assignments, provided with scores. As a motivator, I also gave regular listening quizzes, where the students would be required to identify the composer and composition taken from a brief excerpt selected from anywhere in the assigned piece. I was more generous than many, and usually played about a minute of music.

    For over twenty years, I assigned the same two string quartets for the stringed instruments module: W. A. Mozart's String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, K. 465 "Dissonance" and Béla Bartók's String Quartet No. 5. I always spent substantial time talking about the differences in string writing between "classical" and "modern," especially in that Bartók utilized an abundance of "extended" techniques, and Mozart almost none at all. One example: the "snap pizz.", where the string is plucked strongly enough to rebound against the fingerboard, is known also as a "Bartók pizz.", even though its use dates back to the 17th century at least. But you'll search nearly in vain to even find ordinary pizzicato anywhere in Mozart.

    Two string quartets. One by Mozart, one by Bartók. Keep in mind that all of the students in the course were music majors, always in the last couple years of undergraduate study, meaning that they had passed all core music courses in theory, aural skills, and history. Those were prerequisites for my course.

    In twenty some odd years of teaching this course, in multiple academic institutions, not once did I ever give a listening quiz where there wasn't at least one student who confused Mozart and Bartók in their answers. Most of the time, the excerpt wasn't even the famous opening of the Mozart! It didn't matter. I even took to playing longer excerpts. Didn't help.

    I know; it's baffling. I even added leading questions to the quiz, such as "label any extended techniques you hear in the excerpt." I'm not sure that helped. At least one, often more, still would not successfully distinguish Mozart and Bartók. I took some hope for them in that at least they usually heard it was a string quartet...

    Long have I pondered what this meant, what the implications are. That's a topic for another post on another day. I learned a lot by giving listening assignments to music majors.

    Cheers!
    Last edited by Knorf; Aug-16-2020 at 01:38.

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  23. #1095
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
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    ^^^ Knorf, thanks for your great post!

    I’m very grateful for this choice - I’m fond of Haydn’s quartets but have given heretically little attention to Mozart’s. I have struggled with the whole Classical era quite a lot. Almost since the beginning of my classical music journey, I have been really into Beethoven and Romantic, particularly late Romantic, composers. Because of that, I sometimes just find some of the Classical era works to be too lightweight. I consider this to be my own shortcoming though (which must be urgently fixed!). After listening to ABQ’s recording of this quartet, I realised how much depth and almost Beethovenian atmosphere can be found in this piece, if just the interpretation is right. I’m really excited to discover more different recordings of it!
    Last edited by annaw; Aug-16-2020 at 23:14.

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