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String Quartets Import

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Dec 12 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Eda Edition Abseits
  • ASIN: B000004AE7
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x990579cc) out of 5 stars 1 review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x991c6828) out of 5 stars Not ground-breaking, but highly enjoyable, tonally inventive, and belonging to any serious collection of 20th-Century music Feb. 4 2009
By Discophage - Published on
The German composer Boris Blacher (1903-1975) is not counted among the major figures of 20th Century music, one that, like Schoenberg or Bartok, broke new grounds and begot many followers and epigones, or one that, like Ives, Hindemith, Janacek, Szymanowski or Britten, had a uniquely distinctive voice. I'd rather rank him among the secondary composers originating from the Austrian-German area, like Eisler, Krenek, Hartmann. Still his (and their) music is highly enjoyable, and as he matured he developed a style that, like Britten's (but not as uniquely personal as Britten's), was neither aggressively modern nor backward looking, but was fully his own. His five String Quartets provide a good testimony of his compositional development.

Scholars - following Blacher himself - consider that his personal signature is the invention of the so-called "variable meter" which he experimented from the early 1950s on, e.g., the organization of the rhythmic architecture using regular progressions of the metrical signatures (or number of beats per measure), following simple arithmetic or more complex geometric rules. But I don't find those "kitchen matters" so important. What matters are the results, not the processes. It is true that the rhythmic aspect is always important in the music of Blacher, and as early as his first Quartet (1930), which pre-dates the systematic organization of rhythm by some thirty years. It is dynamic and forward-moving, even jazzy-fugal in its last movement - Berlin in the 1920s. The music is expressionistic and tense. Blacher likes the dramatic crescendo over the long span. He also favors the ostinato in the slow movements - a lasting feature of his compositional outlook which, in the 2nd Quartet in particular, evokes even Kurt Weill (for those who know Weill's two Symphonies). The Quartet is highly canonical and contrapuntal, in conformity with the composer's Austro-German musical upbringing. Hindemith comes to mind more than, say, Bartok or Schoenberg. The Quartet was lost and miraculously retrieved in the early 1970s, when the parts were found in the estate of the copyist to whom they had been entrusted forty years earlier and who was unable to complete the job, the publisher (Jewish) having been clever enough to sense dire times ahead, close down and emigrate. Berlin in the 1930s.

Those features are still in evidence in the 2nd and 3rd Quartets from 1940 and 1944, with an added rhythmic vigor, dynamism and boisterousness that, on a blind test, would have made me think of an American composer, like Schuman or Piston or maybe a slightly more angular Villa Lobos, and also an intense lyricism in the slow movements that I find even more remarkable than in the First Quartet. Two notable features of the Third Quartet are also the brevity of its movements, and the fact that after what you'd think was the finale comes an enigmatic fourth movement, larghetto. The two Quartets may not be ground-breaking, but they are superb works nonetheless.

The 4th Quartet dates from 1951 and is subtitled "Epitaph - To the memory of Franz Kafka". It is a short movement, brooding and questioning ostinatos interrupted by brief outbursts of furious revolt or seemingly ironic pizzicatos.

The 5th Quartet is a much later work (1967) and it is remarkable in its freedom and tonal invention. It is in fact a theme and 14 short variations followed by a coda, with a duration, here, of a little over 17 minutes. Not a theme in the traditional sense, mind you. The composition's full title is "Variations on a diverging triadic chord in C-minor". The triad is whispered sul ponticello, eliciting an eerie and mysterious atmosphere, and that basic theme provides indeed more an atmosphere or color than the traditional a melodic cell from which the variations will unfold. What follows are 14 short and remarkable variations, some fleeting and rhythmical, some others highly very lyrical, and always with great coloristic invention. Again, there is nothing ground-breaking or aggressively modern - Blacher appears to be beyond theses concerns and categories, but it is all wonderfully evocative and taking.

The individual variations aren't cued, but the liner notes of the competing disc provide a good description which make it easy to know where you are. So here are the timings:

1. 1:17
2. 2:09
3. 2:54
4. 3:23
5. 4:07
6. 4:45
7. 6:37
8. 7:28
9. 8:18
10. 8:50
11. 10:30
12. 11:29
13. 13:37
14. 14:28
Epilogue. 15:40

The Petersen Quartet very much have the field to their own, although I've recently reviewed another recording of the 5th Quartet, by the New Leipzig Quartet, paired with Lutoslawski's (String Quartets). The Petersen Quartet's reading is more hushed, subdued and mysterious, as well as more coloristic, dynamic and fleeting. The New Leipzig Quartet are more powerful and weighted. No criticism implied: the Petersen may be overall more subtle, but the New Leipzig is more impressive in the more massive or violent moments. Both approaches work and are complementary, really. Still, the EDA release is preferable, if only because it conveniently presents the complete String Quartets.

Excellent liner notes but the English translation was obviously done by a musical illiterate. I wonder what an English-only reader will make of the notion that the first String Quartet's "harmonies" were found at the copyist's. It's the PARTS ("die Stimmen"), stupid!

This is a highly enjoyable disc, worth investigating, and belonging to any serious collection of 20th Century music.