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Now again Ligeti's 16-string nightmare.

György Ligeti: String Quartet No 1 "Métamorphoses nocturnes"

Hagen Quartett

Cuarteto Casls



The Hagen Quartet's recording was my favourite for this work before I got acquainted with the rendition of the Cuarteto Casals. Now both are in good company leading the field imho.

If I should express it in a single phrase: The Hagens are more on the fun and full throttle side, the Casals quartet show a little more of the nightmare impression. I like them both.
 

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Alright, we haven't heard back from Vicente, so here is my pick...

Edward Elgar: String Quartet in E Minor

I'm departing a bit from my typical custom of choosing a work that I already know and love and picking something with which I am mostly unfamiliar for further exploration. We have had several weeks of modern/contemporary quartets, and there's nothing wrong with that at all, but I've decided to go back a bit to something more Romantic and straightforward because that's what I'm in the mood for this week to ease into the summer after the end of the school year (even though I had a couple contemporary quartets that I was potentially interested in, but there is always next time). This is probably one of the better-known quartets we haven't covered so far, and I'm a great fan of Elgar overall, so this seemed like an attractive choice. Honestly, I don't know why it seems fashionable to denigrate Elgar in some quarters. Yah, I think most would agree that the "patriotic" stuff can be cringe-y and that he sometimes falls prey to excess syrupy-ness, but pieces like the two symphonies (what glorious works!), Enigma Variations, and Piano Quintet strike me as evergreen poetic masterpieces. I have only listened to this quartet once, and it's been a while, so I look forward to living with it for a while. As is my custom, I link to the AllMusic synopsis and provide a brief quote as an appetizer:

AllMusic's Wayne Reisig said:
The String Quartet in E minor was the second of Elgar's three chamber works to come from the autumnal idyll at the cottage in Sussex in 1918. In it he seemed to come nearest to the ideal of Brahms, whom he greatly admired. Although highly expressive, the mood is comparatively restrained, and thus design becomes paramount. This is in contrast with the subsequent Piano Quintet in which novelty of structure and intensity of emotion are conspicuous features...
My streaming app (Idagio) shows 7 recordings, but I know there are more. I'm also aware that Merl has already produced, as we might expect, the indispensable survey of the discography, which I shall be using to guide my listening.

Happy listening, all!
 

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I've nearly picked this quartet so many times that I decided to blog it almost a year ago. I already owned a fair number of recordings of it, all of which I enjoyed or loved. but this comparison helped me find another (unexpected one) that I've gone on to purchase and cherish.
The String Quartet was the first of three chamber works that he tackled in 1918 in the peaceful surroundings of Brinkwells, the country cottage that Lady Elgar had found for them in the depth of the Sussex countryside. After the delivery of a piano to Brinkwells in mid-August of that year, Elgar tempted fate a second time by putting aside the quartet, firstly to compose the Violin Sonata and then to make a start on the Piano Quintet . Fortunately, he resumed work on the quartet in October 1918, taking it forward to completion by the end of the year.

Elgar was an accomplished violinist, having played in various chamber ensembles in his youth. This quartet combines the skills thus acquired from those days with a high level of compositional inspiration. The outer movements display a vigorous dialogue between the four instruments, in contrast to the dream-like quality of the central piacevole. Lady Elgar likened this movement to "captured sunshine" and the allegro molto to the "galloping of stallions". This should not be read to imply a deeper programme for the work, simply that Elgar had captured the atmosphere and spirit of the woodlands around Brinkwells that were his inspiration for the work.

I'll he honest and say that I've never been much of an Elgar fan but the string quartet and piano quintet have always appealed to me a great deal. The beautiful piacevole 2nd movement, especially, is a huge favourite of mine and I can take quite a range of performances.
 

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Elgar - excellent choice. I agree that the three late chamber music works, created after the sinfonies and the oratorios, are special within the composer's oeuvre.

Aside from some sporadic trials, I neglected all three. So I am glad to have a reason to take a closer look to the string quartet! Thank you.

Recommendations for pleasant recordings are highly welcome, as always ... I will have to take a look at Merl's blog.
 

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This is a work I really like! Actually one of the better pieces of chamber music by an English composer. I will be listening to the Naxos recording by the Maggini Quartet.

Elgar has a few gems and this is one of the imho. It's been a while since I have listened to it admittedly...

From me too a big thanks for selecting this one ....
 

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If you get a chance check out the Coull Quartet reading on Hyperion (it's not on streaming, btw). Usually the Coull Quartet are bywords for safe, moderate and rather predictable performances but they went 'taps aff' (its a Glaswegian phrase - look it up) on this recording. One of those occasions where you expect one thing and then get something totally different. A very pleasant surprise.
 

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This is not a quartet I am familiar with, I may well have heard it in the past but probably at a time when my interest in quartets was limited. This morning I have listened to the Sorrel Quartet recording via Qobuz and I get the sense that this is a piece that will blossom the more I listen to it.
I have found in the past Elgar's works have never really revealed themselves immediately to me but once they become friends they are friends for life.
 

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I had heard the Elgar before; although I am not sure if more than once or twice (I have the Naxos disc with the Maggini). I now listened twice within a few days. It's a good piece but unlikely to become a great favorite. I guess my stance towards Elgar is a bit similar to that of many listeners towards Brahms: It's well crafted music often dominated by a particular kind of melancholy mood. There's more energy in the last movement but overall I think it could do with a bit more contrast. I'll give it a few more listens (fortunately, unlike his symphonies or violin concerto it is a reasonably short piece).
 

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Elgar is my favorite British composer, however, my admiration for his music is entirely based on his orchestral output. I really have tried to like his chamber music, but it always leaves me slightly disappointed. Kreisler jr. summed it up well: "it could do with a bit more contrast." It's odd because I love Elgar and the string quartet (and piano quintet) genre, but it never quite turns the corner for me. Initially, I thought it had to do with having high expectations, but I don't believe that's the problem. Well, at least this has motivated me to play some of my orchestral recordings of Elgar's music.
 

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^ I feel much the same way about his chamber music. The quartet has some lovely passages in it but as a whole it doesn't do much for me. And although I prefer it I would say much the same about the piano quintet. They are works that disappoint me. Like you, SP, I largely rate Elgar for his orchestral works (a number of major masterpieces) and some of his vocal and choral works (Gerontius, Sea Pictures).
 

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I'm very glad I made the acquaintance of this quartet, even if I might not return to it that often. For some reason I can't quite identify, this album cover is going to stick in my mind the most:
Musical instrument Photograph Violin family Musician String instrument


Followed by this one (figures it's a Chandos):
World Nature Natural landscape Organism Plant


Every other cover seems fairly forgettable for me, except this one which has actively made me lose the will to live:
Rainbow Cloud Sky Atmosphere Ecoregion
 

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I understand why some may not connect with this one. In fact, after further listening, I'm not sure I even like it as much as I originally thought I would! Don't get me wrong, I like it, but I definitely don't consider it among Elgar's masterpieces and would definitely rank it below Vaughan Williams, Arnold, Bax, and Britten in the British string quartet game. I was surprised by the general language of it as it seems a bit more amorphous, chromatic, and stereotypically late-Romantic than I remember any of Elgar's music being. This leads to an absence of particularly memorable moments and can make it seem a bit long-winded even for its average length, but I love the rustic melodies peppered throughout and especially how those are expanded in the concise, satisfying first movement—virtually all the thematic material is given in the first minute and the development of it is wonderfully organic. There are some parts of this first movement that almost sound a bit neo-Baroquey, with chorales, Reger-esque counterpoint, and circle of fifths progressions. The second movement brings to mind a romantic sunset boat trip on a river in the countryside, with the compound meter evoking the stroke of oars and the original, deeply affecting melody like a tender love song, building to a passionate climax before the sun slips below the horizon (I'm pretty sure I said something similar with the second movement of the Alwyn quartet we did earlier, but I'm sticking with it). And then the third movement, I'm afraid to say I find disappointing. There is a distinct lack of memorable ideas for me here, and Elgar just seems to spin out some compositional exercises for eight minutes because he feels like he needs to round off the inspired first two movements. I dunno, maybe I just haven't found the right recording for it. Speaking of which, the two I've heard so far—the Brodsky and Sorrel, both on Chandos, I thought underplayed the drama of Elgar's protean writing and both sounded strangely underpowered. Though the Brodsky definitely had better tone, the Sorrels are more convincing in bringing out the lyricism. However, I think the quartet could benefit from less of a "polite English" approach and that it should be milked more like a Borodin or Tchaikovsky quartet. None of Merl's top recommendations are on my streaming, but I will keep looking.
 
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