This DVD consists of two films done by the distinguished French music documentarian (and concert violinist) Bruno Monsaingeon. The first, and for me by far the more interesting, is a 2001 hour-long film, 'Strings Attached', consisting of intense rehearsal of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge by and interviews with members of the Artemis Quartet as it was constituted in 2001. (The group has since replaced the second violinist and violist seen in these films.) Watching and hearing the group work at the fine points of their conception of Beethoven's great work is instructive, not only for string players but for general chamber music lovers as well. This is followed by a complete performance of the work in which one can not only be caught up in the Grosse Fuge's marvels but also see how the rehearsals we witnessed affect its final shape. The performance itself is marvelous. It is a particularly fine-boned performance whose approach allows us to be aware of all the fugue's components without coming across as a clinical x-ray. I particularly liked the leadership of first violinist Natalia Prischepenko whose delicate playing has a steely interior spine. The quartet's pianissimi are a wonder. But when they come to the gutsier parts of the fugue they deliver, too.
The second film is of an hour-long concert done in the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris, on April 8, 2001. The program consists of Beethoven's Quartet No. 2 in G, Op. 18, No. 2; Verdi's Quartet in E Minor; and Webern's Six Bagatelles, Op. 9. As in the Grosse Fuge, the Beethoven quartet is played with delicacy and suavity. It strikes me as being somewhere between the performances of the Berg Quartet and of the Emerson Quartet, showing the Emerson's clarity and the Berg's expressiveness. Verdi's quartet, his only one, was premiered the day after the premiere of Aida in 1873. It is quintessential Verdi in that it is both melodic and theatrical. The Artemis Quartet are particularly effective in the prestissimo third movement and the finale, Scherzo Fuga, in both of which one hears anticipations of the fairy music in Verdi's Falstaff. Webern's Six Bagatelles, none of which lasts much longer than a minute, are among the most concentrated works in the quartet literature. Each note has its own separate dynamic marking, and tone colors shimmer like the Northern Lights. The Artemis play them as well as any performance I've ever heard, even including those of both the Juilliard and the Arditti quartets. Superb.
Recommended for its intended audience.
Running time: ca. 120 mins; Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo; Interviews in German, Russian with subtitles in English, French; Region: 0 (worldwide)