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Hartmann: String Quartet No. 1 / Bartok: String Quartet No. 4 Import
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|1. Str Qt No.1 'Carillon': Langsam - Sehr Lebhaft|
|2. Str Qt No.1 'Carillon': Con Sordino|
|3. Str Qt No.1 'Carillon': Con Tutta Forza|
|4. Str Qt No.4: Allegro|
|5. Str Qt No.4: Prestissimo, Con Sordino|
|6. Str Qt No.4: Non Troppo Lento|
|7. Str Qt No.4: Allegretto Pizzicato|
|8. Str Qt No.4: Allegro Molto|
The Zehetmair Quartett transfixes the listener with a truly exhilarating performance of Bartók's String Quartet No.4 of 1928 on this ECM disc. You can imagine the gypsies dancing as the group's steely sound grips the air and refuses to let go. The microphones are close enough to hear the players sweat: the dramatic exhalation in the last bar of the first movement betrays their driving intensity. Their sul ponticello playing in the whirlwind second has an eerie metallic magic. The slow kernel shows off Françoise Groben's lachrymose cello. The wonderfully articulate pizzicato fourth spits with angry eastern inflection and the hard, pounding finale stamps home in wild delirium. The companion work is the German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann's String Quartet No.1 op.1, "Carillon", which won Geneva's Carillon competition in 1936. Hartmann later withdrew the work as he pursued an anti-Nazi policy of inner exile. This was perhaps just as well. A muted viola opens with a melodic dirge which stings into a furious charge bolstered by chords of icy crispness. The middle movement con sordino is a tense drama of whistling-kettle harmonics and low, fearful shiverings. The irate finale has chords like leather fists and a driving, accelerating passion which certainly would not have endeared him to his country's murderous politicians. --Rick Jones
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
So why only 4 stars for this recording, which has 5-star performances? The answer is the short running time of this CD, only 43 minutes for the two quartets. There was easily room for either Hartmann's second quartet, which times at just a few minutes short of half an hour, or another quartet by another composer from that inter-war era. Recordings of the Hartmann quartets are quite rare, while sets of the Bartok quartets are comparatively thick on the ground. I can't help feeling that there was a missed opportunity to spread word of both Hartmann quartets to a wider audience. If you find this CD, you won't go wrong with it. But it could have had more.
Thomas Zehetmair, Austrian violinist extraordinaire, and his Zehetmair Quartett, create a unique program by combining the well-known Bartok Fourth with the less well-known Hartmann First, bringing to light in historic context the work of a German composer. They would repeat this format in 2007 by combining Bartok's Fifth quartet and Hindemith's Fourth.
The Zehetmair Quartett compels the listener through this dense modern music, illuminating the stories it has to tell. For this 1999 recording, the quartet was Zehetmair and Ulf Schneider on violin, Ruth Killius (Zehetmair's wife) on viola, and Francoise Groben on cello. The players memorize the score before coming together to record, or to tour, and they bring a sharp, nervous energy and telepathic interplay.
Bartok (1885-1945) was profoundly impressed by hearing Berg's new "Lyric Suite" in Baden-Baden in July 1927, and two months later he had completed his Third Quartet. The Fourth followed within a year. It takes the shape of an arch, and based on Bartok's description of its structure, it is clear that it is nearly a palindrome. All six of Bartok's quartets, but especially his Third, Fourth, and Fifth, are masterpieces of the form, clearly among the best and most important quartets of the early Twentieth centuries (along with Schoenberg and Shostakovich). They have of course been recorded extensively, and rather than compete with such integral cycles as the definitive Takacs Quartet, Zehetmair chooses to bring Bartok to light not only through interpretation but by juxtaposition.
As a young man in Germany's Weimar Republic, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) "...nonchalantly amalgamated Futurism, Dada, jazz and other things in a series of compositions..." His First Quartet is dedicated to Hermann Scherchen, the influential conductor of Neue Musik, who provided guidance and support for the young Hartmann. Hartmann's signature style is evident here, a somber, tragic view and a moving modernism clearly rooted in both Mahler and Schoenberg that does not abandon tonality for the 12-tone method. This prize-winning quartet is altogether worthy of being heard alongside Schoenberg and Bartok. Hartmann wrote only one more quartet, focusing his energies on symphonies.
The Zehetmair Quartett bring to life the music of another era, music of Central Europe on the hinge between the wars. It can be recommended without qualification to anyone interested in the finest string quartets of the Twentieth Century.