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Having said what I said earlier in the week, after listening to a few recordings - Reinhold, Brodsky (ASV) and initially the Sorrel via streaming I struggled a bit to get a handle on what Elgar was trying to achieve - it all seemed to be pleasant but lacking a vitality, in crude terms it lacked oomph.
I started with the Sorrel recording (attracted by the cover Steve!) but found that a little lacklustre, the Reinhold and Brodsky were a few steps in the right direction but when the Goldner recording I ordered on Merl's recommendation arrived this morning the quartet sounded so much better. It sounded more coherent, the sound quality is first rate so all of a sudden, for this listener at least, the work became much more acceptable.
I suspect it won't become, at least at this point I don't think it will, a favourite but I'm happy enough to have added it to my collection.
 

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^ Sadly, the Goldner is the only one I have (it got many 5* reviews when it came out) and it still failed to ignite much enthusiasm for me so I guess I am a lost cause for this work. I firmly believe Elgar is a very great composer so I had been hoping for a lot more!
 

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I only have the Goldner too. My first time with the piece. Pleasant enough but can't help feeling they're not very "together" with it. Maybe that's the piece, not the quartet (or maybe it's me). Will listen again.
 

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As usual, I feel like I don’t have time to really explore this piece, but from a couple casual listens, I am struck by a quality that pervades all of Elgar’s music: a way of manipulating musical conventions so they mimic our natural tendency as humans to stray from topic to topic and modulate through a variety of emotions. Watching the score as I listen, I can see how carefully he constructs the music so that it sounds fluid and spontaneous. I guess I am thinking mostly in rhythmic terms right now. It doesn’t fit neatly in a box such as 4/4 or 6/8.

I am sure one could make a parallel to opera trends in the 19th and 20th centuries; many conventions were broken in order to convey natural speech patterns. At times, mostly in the slower more lyrical moments, I almost feel like Elgar is setting text that we don’t know about.

Of course, there are movements like the last in which his style becomes more conventional. Sometimes he needs a good old-fashioned Allegro movement to get the job done and wrap things up.
 

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I really like the Elgar SQ but totally understand the slight reticence towards it. Totally agree that the 3rd movement is much weaker than those that preceed it but I love that very summery and romantic 2nd movement. Listening again, today, to my two faves on the car USB the Coull recording is now my slight favourite but the Goldner is a really fine performance too. The Coulls are more urgent and forceful (surprisingly enough considering how 'magnolia' some of their other recordings can be). Thanks for the pick this week even though I'd already reviewed it.

PS. If you haven't got this month's BBC music magazine the free Pavel Haas Quartet live disc is worth the outlay for a really, really impressive Janacek SQ1 and lovely Dvorak 13. There's also a decent Dvorak American too but it's a bit reverberant (still a very nice performance). I think Malx said the same thing in the Current Listening thread.
 

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Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Sibelius, Mahler, Messiaen
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Next week's pick goes to Mandryka.
 

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I can't recognize so much summer in the 2nd movement, in spite of Lady Elgar's saying "captured sunshine". It's rather remembering summer than the summer itself. So I feel it is rather autumnal, even in the a little raspy recording of the Brodsky Quartet, which is just running. What do you think?
 

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Here's this weeks choice.

J S Bach's Art of Fugue is an anthology of short pieces of music which use the same simple theme. Bach wrote it in the last decade of his life. He published it, and then decided to extend it -- a task which was prematurely cut short by his death.

All these quartets of string instruments have recorded substantial parts of it:

Bernini
Delian
Delmé
Emerson
Fretwork
Italiano (members)
Julliard
Keller
Kölner violen consort
Les Voix Humaines
Modern
Musicarius
Phantasm
Portland
Quartetto Classico
Roth
Sit Fast
Soundiva

I hope you find it's interesting to listen to these ensembles try to play it.
 

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Yep. This is one I've had on my short list since I joined the thread. It got bumped each time by another work. Given the density of material, I was going to try to assemble 4 or 5 Contrapunctus (what's the plural of that? i?) to mimic the movements of an average length string quartet, but I say, go for it all! For about a decade, I've been listening to it played on piano by Evgeni Koroliov, but I occasionally put on the Emerson Quartet's recording. The final, incomplete Fuga a 3 Soggetti is especially amazing, although that abrupt stop (incomplete) and silence is a little eerie. Good choice.
 

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Wow!! To be perfectly honest, I had been wanting to nominate this, but feared it would cause too much of a controversy since it was not originally written for string quartet (the format itself was mostly relegated to home life in Bach's time before Haydn popularized it in the concert hall). Then again, it is the rare piece that is written in open score with no specification, so anything is really plausible. As Bach is my favorite composer by a very long shot (about half of my listening time is devoted to him), I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this discussion! I do think the music lends itself to a pretty much any format, though I usually end up listening to it on piano (Sokolov or MacGregor) or Jordi Savall's wind/gamba ensemble. I can't say I've spent much time with quartet versions, though. I also must admit that this music can be supremely mystifying. It is the epitome of sheer abstraction, and it seems to exist on a different plane of time and contemplation. It is easy to dismiss it as a series of academic/conceptual exercises that were not meant to be performed. However, when listened to in a certain way and in the certain mood, it can be utterly transformative. I might go so far as to say it achieves a height that it is almost impossible for instrumental music to ever achieve again, but that is admittedly a bit of a subjective statement.
 

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Yep. This is one I've had on my short list since I joined the thread. It got bumped each time by another work. Given the density of material, I was going to try to assemble 4 or 5 Contrapunctus (what's the plural of that? i?) to mimic the movements of an average length string quartet, but I say, go for it all! For about a decade, I've been listening to it played on piano by Evgeni Koroliov, but I occasionally put on the Emerson Quartet's recording. The final, incomplete Fuga a 3 Soggetti is especially amazing, although that abrupt stop (incomplete) and silence is a little eerie. Good choice.
I think anyone who enjoyed Ben Johnston’s quartets will also enjoy Michael Finnissy’s response for string quartet to the unfinished cpt.

 

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Wow!! To be perfectly honest, I had been wanting to nominate this, but feared it would cause too much of a controversy since it was not originally written for string quartet (the format itself was mostly relegated to home life in Bach's time before Haydn popularized it in the concert hall).
Me too. I suppose were are to focus on recordings of modern string quartets and not to venture into viol consorts or, God forbid, a piano?
 

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Any 4-part fugue can be performed be performed by a quartet though. I don't know what makes the Art of the Fugue special from all other 4-part fugues in that regard.

Haydn popularized it in the concert hall
Is there any actual evidence (from the 18th century) for that? Aside from the claims by people like Charlatan Rosen? Evidence that he meant them to be different from the baryton trios he similarly wrote for the Esterhazies, before 1785, and to be actual "concert" pieces under the concept understood by the later generations?
Ignaz von Beecke (1733-1803) string quartet in C (circa. 1780)
The slow movement of MH299 (in variations, @6:05) anticipates that of Mozart K.464

As for examples of quartets originally written in different instrumentation.
There are quartets by the Bach sons, and- this "quartet for violin, cor anglais, viola, doublebass" MH600
 

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Any 4-part fugue can be performed be performed by a quartet though.
It goes without saying - that's not true, if the compass of the voices exceeds the possibilities of the string instruments.

In the 4-part fugue F minor of the Well-Tempered Clavier I, we have a B in the tenor (bar 4) and e and f in the alto in bar 7. Difficult for a string quartet.
 

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I have around 10 recordings of the piece but none with string quartet only... I have one (Breuer, Arte Nova) where some are played by the Leipzig SQ and the Pommer/Capriccio has some played by a viol ensemble.
AFAIK some fugues cannot be played by an SQ without either slight re-arranging/transposing or using a special viola with additional lower notes or sth. like that.
There is by now also scholarly consensus that it is a keyboard work, but of course using a string quartet is not worse than using a viol consort, one is customary 100 years before, the other 100 years after Bach ;)
 

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But I like the piano best with this one!
I’d taken quite a lot of trouble to compile a discography of recordings for quartets of string instruments. It’s quite a substantial discography. Rightly or wrongly the string players must think they can make something worthwhile out of the music by performing it like this.
 
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