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However, the stupidest cover to this quartet I have is from the Britten quartet, who have greedily used a number of bland covers over the years. The one below (of a box hedge) is surely the worst.

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This atrocious cover art for the string quartets by Verdi et al. looks to me like an arrangement of the candy-coated fennel seeds available in a bowl as you exit Indian restaurants. Maybe they got a deal on fennel which, on the plus side, is said to relieve gas.
 

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That Artemis cover is just stupid and the Brodsky cover makes it look like it's a recording of a cheesy musical, set in the Mediterranean. However, the stupidest cover to this quartet I have is from the Britten quartet, who have greedily used a number of bland covers over the years. The one below (of a box hedge) is surely the worst. The Verdi cover I like the best is from the Delme disc.

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Merl, do you not know the significance of the hedge and the reason why it was chosen for this recording?
 

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Sorry for my increasingly dwindling presence on here; as a busy student I find myself with less and less time to really get into the weekly selection. I totally agree with AAME’s assessment of this work - not particularly original or new sounding, but very well crafted and it flows very nicely; kind of a mix of Schubert and Mendelssohn with an unmistakable Italian zest (have we had any other Italian quartets in this thread?) There is quite a lot of repetition that I wasn’t a fan of and this is a far cry from the great trailblazing Verdi of the Requiem, Otello, and Don Carlo (quite a bit of Falstaff in the last two movements though…) but it meets the ear very pleasantly and sustains attention. I’ve only heard Merl’s favorite Di Cremona, which is dispatched with remarkable fire and imagination.
 

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Merl,

I checked out the Borusan on your advice. Overall, it is one of my favorite recordings so far. However, there are a couple things that turned me off.
When they play that little chromatic scale that serves a transition to the B theme in the first movement there is a very strange rubato. Instead of slowing down slightly as indicated, they speed up and then immediately slow down. I don’t get it.
My other little complaint is in the Prestissimo. At first, I thought there was a measure with an extra beat after the first phrase (measure 10). I checked the score. There isn’t. Many groups take a little time here, so I am assuming there is a logistical reason. But the Borusans really lean into it and, like I said, simply rewrite the measure to include another beat.

My favorite part of this quartet is the Prestissimo movement. It is like an exciting ballroom dance from Traviata (or maybe the gypsy camp from Trovatore) And then the Baritone sings a beautiful aria. Then we all go back to the ballroom (or gypsy encampment). This is really making want to listen to a Verdi opera.
 

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Merl,

I checked out the Borusan on your advice. Overall, it is one of my favorite recordings so far. However, there are a couple things that turned me off.
When they play that little chromatic scale that serves a transition to the B theme in the first movement there is a very strange rubato. Instead of slowing down slightly as indicated, they speed up and then immediately slow down. I don't get it.
My other little complaint is in the Prestissimo. At first, I thought there was a measure with an extra beat after the first phrase (measure 10). I checked the score. There isn't. Many groups take a little time here, so I am assuming there is a logistical reason. But the Borusans really lean into it and, like I said, simply rewrite the measure to include another beat.
I did notice the quirk in the first movement (but couldn't have explained it as eloquently as you, CB) and admit that is a strange decision but tbh I was so engrossed in the performance that I didn't even notice the one in the prestissimo. The Borusans are a quirky bunch and so a little artistic licence is expected. There's a couple in the accompanying Mozart performance on that disc too (also a very fine and powerful performance). I think I can forgive the the odd extra interpretive touch as long as the interpretation doesn't then end up sounding too nuanced (the Dorics can sometimes be guilty of the same). I think the expression 'lean into it' was a perfect description. As I said about the Di Cremona performance too (that's well characterised, as well) this is a quartet where a bit of drama doesn't go amiss for me and where I enjoy some poetic license. It needs it and sounds better for it. Listening to the Amadeus recording again and comparing and contrasting against my very top picks (to check if I was being too harsh) the difference is big. I want to hear passion here. I, too, love that prestissimo and it should be exciting.
 

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It's Friday and so, despite a busy week, I've done this:


It’s an awkward dawn in Naples. Verdi, now of a certain age, gets up early and paces about his room, nervously. Aida is going well, or would be if the prima donna hadn’t gone sick, but he has money in his pocket and nothing much on the horizon. There’ll be a requiem (too late for Rossini) to be repurposed (too late for Manzoni), but that’s not in the diary yet so, for the past couple of weeks, he’s been working on something a bit different and tonight will be the first performance. The audience, selected by Verdi from his own friends, can be relied on to be polite. And the musicians, also with time on their hands, have diligently rehearsed, didn’t ask many questions and were grateful for the extra money, so Maestro Verdi is confident they’ll do it justice, though he wonders if there aren’t more auspicious days than Aprils Fools’.

But tosh to superstition. He’s never been worried about that, despite everything. What luck he’s had, he’s made himself, with the sweat of his own hands or back or brow or whatever, despite his humble origins. And look what he’s achieved, both musically and politically. Italy is now united, purged of the parasitic royalty and grasping rentiers who’d, for so long, oppressed his fellow peasants. That, he likes to think, might not have happened if he hadn’t, time and time again, campaigned against the well-heeled classes by writing shows that they’d enjoyed. He’d even, albeit briefly, become a member of Parliament (though, sadly, one too busy to attend any meetings), where he might have continued to press the case of the Italian peasant (if he’d not been too busy etc).

And look how he’s built up the family home. What was once practically a hovel (albeit one that also served as an inn, grocery and post-office) in Busetto is now a sprawling, productive estate. It’s not as well-managed as he’d like, and he’s sure he’d do a better job, if only he had the time and the knowledge and the strength and wasn’t prey to those discerning sorts of nerves that make such work impossible for people of his station in life. But, despite the errors of his stewards and the indolence of the peasants, it’s bringing in good money all the same and, again, all thanks to his ceaseless work. Despite his humble origins.

Every ointment has its fly, though, and a few things still rankled. One of which was a crack from Boito about his writing being formulaic, as if all he’d done in his life was churn out operas to other people’s words. Although a list of his published works might give that impression, he’d done many hard yards in his youth, writing hundreds of pieces for the church choir and town band, before that miserable conservatory in Milan had rejected his application and he’d been forced to find private tuition. But, despite all this writing, and tuition and eager study, and his unconquerable success in opera houses across the world, he’d never been taken quite as seriously as he’d liked by those serious critics (and conservatories) who idolised the Germans, with all their difficult, serious chamber music.

And, of course, Wagner, whose harmonic sophistry had led some to consider Verdi’s operas as a few jolly tunes sung to a rumpty-tumpty accompaniment, with brass-band choruses taken for political anthems. As if Preziozilla hadn’t done more in twenty minutes than Siegfried could manage in eight hours. But never mind. At least Verdi could pay his bills. And, besides, his music wasn’t nearly as elementary as it sounded. There was craft in that. There was counterpoint beneath those drinking songs, daring harmonies in the duets and those terzetti weren’t accidental, but came from a thorough study of the great quartets.

So, while he’d found himself at a loose end, he’d started to sketch an actual quartet, the most serious music of all, just to see if it might work. Sure, he’d not had any words to set, which might rob a work of a narrative, but that was just a matter of imagination and anyone who could sell a legend about Egypt to the actual Egyptians could hardly be lacking in that. And, if it didn’t, that didn’t matter. Retirement might have its attractions, after all.

But, as he sketched, he’d found he’d not left Busetto so very far behind. Strings weren’t the same as a choir, exactly, but not far off, and music was what he understood. Writing a quartet wasn’t much different to any other day at the office. It didn’t matter how big the canvas or small the voices. It was all music, and that’s what Verdi did, with as much virtuosity as any motif-hammering German or neuraesthenic French. It just happened that, for most of his career, he’d found large, wealthy crowds paid better than, however much he loved them, the ungrateful, late-paying tradesfolk of Busetto. But now it’s done. And Verdi paces about his room, nervously.
 

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^ Burbage, your Friday posts continue to be a highlight! You actually made me go look up the history of April Fool's Day this time, but it does indeed go all the way back (disputedly) to Chaucer and undisputedly to the early 1500's.

(Your trivia for today: As widespread as April Fool's Day is around the world, did you know it's an official holiday only in Odessa, Ukraine?)
 

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... But, as he sketched, he'd found he'd not left Busetto so very far behind. Strings weren't the same as a choir, exactly, but not far off, and music was what he understood. Writing a quartet wasn't much different to any other day at the office. It didn't matter how big the canvas or small the voices. It was all music, and that's what Verdi did, with as much virtuosity as any motif-hammering German or neuraesthenic French. It just happened that, for most of his career, he'd found large, wealthy crowds paid better than, however much he loved them, the ungrateful, late-paying tradesfolk of Busetto. But now it's done. And Verdi paces about his room, nervously.
Aida and quartets weren't the only things on Verdi's mind. The home improvements in Busetto were impressive but the outdoor space was far from ideal and something was needed to tame the unruly bushes and boxes bordering the refurbished estate. Verdi took the this task on himself, at first hacking furiously at the explosion of foliage and then more tenderly as he began shaping then in more intricate designs. As he worked his obsession grew as slowly and surely as box. Every June, as the cutting season arrived, dreams of Egyptian landscapes and Ethiopian princesses would cool and his night time mind would be filled with visions of topiary . At dawn, with wine in hand and still in his monographed Verdi PJs, the snipping began. Tiny serpentine shapes emerged with giant spheres, stars, spirals and cones. Some began to look increasingly like green pyramids. Squares of green box proliferated across the whole garden with the composer becoming smitten by the bug and creating small geometric patterns across the whole area. Other designs looked indescribably weird. Dreams do not always translate well into hedging. Then, snip, snip, snip, came a sphinx, then a volcano with lumps of box, cascading down the sides. The obsession consumed Verdi more than any other project, whether musical or horticultural. He even considered a new opera with a story revolving around Egyptian Kings and hedging entitled 'Rameses the Gardener', the tale of a pharaoh murdered by jealous contestants in the yearly Cairo Flower and Shrub Show.... :rolleyes:

*some poetic license may have been present in this story, Henry.



Plant Leaf Botany Vegetation Grass
 

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That's similar to what I wanted to express further above. It is quite remarkable to have such a piece from Verdi at all but I don't think it is a particularly great string quartet, like some other quartets from composers who wrote only one. It's better than real oddities like Wagner's symphony, though.
 

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We haven't had any Bartok since I joined this thread. To paraphrase MC Hammer, It's Bartok-time!

This week's selection: Bartok's String Quartet #3
The recording I listen to: Takacs Quartet

1. Prima Parte: Moderato
2. Seconda Parte. Allegro
3. Ricapitulazione della prima parte: Moderato - Coda: Allegro molto

All of Bartok's string quartets are intense and somewhat difficult, and these qualities reach their zenith in the 3rd and 4th String Quartets, which are my favorites. The 3rd is more concentrated and concise than the sprawling 4th, clocking in at approximately 15 minutes; the Second Part and Coda could be called "Short Ride In A Fast Machine," to borrow John Adams' terminology. The brief, threadbare thematic material of the first two parts, featuring "modern" dissonance and peasant folkdance, is given an imaginative series of head-spinning treatments and variations before the following two recapitulations furiously recall them and the music collapses.

Like much of Bartok's music, there is an emphasis on contrasts: aggressive, disorienting dissonance and genial folk music; classical contrapuntal mastery and 20th Century harmony; chaos and tranquility. The palette of aural colors and sonorities is vast. In the 3rd and 4th string quartets, Bartok expanded the variety of sonorities that a string quartet could produce, and in doing so, made arguably the greatest contribution to the string quartet genre since Beethoven. Furthermore, the manipulation of rhythm, timbre and dynamics within this context is often unsettling, yet always exciting to this listener.

I initially bought the Novak Quartet cycle, but I didn't really take the plunge into this music until I purchased the Takacs Quartet's set. The meaty, beaty, big and bouncy performances of the Takacs are well-recorded and suit the music perfectly. They're a fine entree into these 20th Century masterworks. There are many other Bartok quartet cycles with sterling reputations, including the Tokyo, Julliard, Emerson, and other Hungarian quartets.

Here's the Takacs Quartet to kick things off. I believe the Finale is from a playlist, so if you don't stop it at the end, it will just go on to play the rest of the cycle.
 

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Great choice! I always found 4-6 much easier to take in than 1-3 so it's a welcome occasion to listen to #3, maybe the toughest of all of them and one of the toughest Bartok pieces for me. It's short enough that I should be able to get through all of my recordings, even twice if necessary: Juillard/Sony (1960s), Hungarian/DG, Tokyo/DG, Hagen/DG (Newton).
 

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The Verdi quartet was good to get to know. I hadn't heard it before, though I was surprised when I first read he had written one and have been meaning to give it a listen. Thanks.

The Bartók cycle is another that I really want to spend some time with. This will be a good opportunity. I'll start with the Hungarian String Quartet.
 
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