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Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 1 in b,
No. 2 in F,
Overture on Hebrew Themes in c,
Quintet in g,
Russian Str Qrt; Igor Fedorov (cl);
Mikhail Khokhlov (pn);
Dmitri Kotenok (ob);
Oleg Tantsov (cl);
Yuri Goloubev (db)
ARTE NOVA ANO 654270 (72:21)
We all look forward to those moments that seem to come from nowhere, when a disc unlike any we?ve heard or imagined first comes into our lives prompting thoughts that nothing will ever be the same, save the joys of record collecting. We remember where we sat, perhaps what cordial we slowly sipped, as the journey of an hour began, revisited again and again, until eventually we come to envy those blessed by their opportunity to hear such a record for the first time. And lucky people, your time awaits, and that time ought to be now.
Recorded in 1996, these Prokofiev string quartets comport themselves with all of the icy, tendril-like sense of encroachment their composer could ever hope to give them, music of such spirit it appears to rebel against quartet forms, mere impositions. With his penchant for what he deemed bolder, more appropriately resplendent musical settings?what can now feel like an overvaluation of operatic and symphonic works at the cost of chamber music?and pianistic background, the thought of Prokofiev composing a string quartet at the bequest of the Library of Congress, as was the case with op. 50, during a time when the bulk of the Library?s commissions went out to blues musicians like Son House and Leadbelly and Appalachian and backwater folk music, might now strike us as novel. Why would a foremost Russian composer, once immune to criticism, increasingly galled by critical riposte and sensitive to jibes, commit to such a project, however worthy? Listening to this disc, which I would put on par with Testament?s Hollywood Quartet release of the second quartet?that brilliant ensemble that made a habit of rendering everything it touched definitive?I am left thinking that this was simply Prokofiev?s way of dashing any notions of familiar forms, forms he had mastered, and anything so appreciably innocent as music composed for children?everything, really, including the ardor that once had him seeking Rachmaninoff-like success as a touring pianist/composer. This is the sound of a composer letting rip, music to overwhelm any mood.
The sound balance on this record?at once sharp and expansive?is truly unrepentant: every note is made to tell, every cadence a full splash?or slash?across a musical canvas so bold that every gesture feels fraught with risk?woe to a careless transition or poorly accented note. It?s as though Prokofiev himself is demanding absolute fealty of vision from the Russian String Quartet, and no hand wringing can impose upon, or deter, this most implacable of ventures. And still, were the quartets not enough, the supplementary material offers almost as many treasures. The
Overture on Hebrew Themes
is a particularly fascinating assemblage, a work with the texture of many disparate parts?as though leftover from other, inspired creations and made to function as a kind of musical collage art?from a circus style hurly-burly to a weeping, almost satirical classicism, to a gypsy habanera. This is melting pot music, borne out of a crucible-style development, a layering and mixing of ideas and motifs?fantastically organic in its apparent cohesion and its lack of artifice. Listen for Oleg Tantsov?s descending clarinet figure on the disc?s concluding Quintet, op. 39, as the rest of the players recede, ever quieter, into the background?a buzzing hum?and with one compact, startling gesture it?s as though the music has been tossed over a cliff and us with it, only to bound back up again with the Andantino, Russian folk music intercut with strains from a Turkish waltz. One is left in something of a tizzy, energized and breathless, as in ?what to do now?? Step lively, with music clearly driven by elements of modern dance, and linger in those private moments when one thinks, ?Aha, I should like to make another discovery such as this again someday.?
FANFARE: Colin Fleming
Works on This Recording
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Outstanding November 29, 2014
By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews
"Here is an intense and gorgeous recording of Sergei Prokofiev's two biting, acerbic string quartets. Played with an obvious and deep affinity for Prokofiev's style by the Russian String Quartet, the works emerge as real chamber music masterpieces deserving a much wider exposure. Rounding out the recording are Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes and Quintet for Strings and Winds. Arte Nova has produced a highly impressive and attractive recording here, and I really liked it. Hopefully you will as well. Strong recommendation."