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Hartmann, Bartok: String Quartets / Zehetmair Quartet

Release Date: 05/15/2001 
Label:  Ecm   Catalog #: 465776   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Karl Amadeus HartmannBéla Bartók
Performer:  Ulf SchneiderThomas ZehetmairFrançoise GrobenRuth Killius
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zehetmair String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 43 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ECM's excellent booklet notes mention that Bartók wrote his Fourth Quartet in 1928, not long after hearing Alban Berg's Lyric Suite. Five years later Karl Amadeus Hartmann brought forth the first of his two string quartets. While the work draws inspiration from the Bartók Fourth, it not only pursues its own path, but also stands as a superior achievement in its own right. Indeed, the work's exquisite craftsmanship, wide emotional range, and imaginative textures add up to a bona fide and sadly overlooked masterpiece. Thomas Zehetmair and his colleagues command a wide arsenal of articulations, attacks, chordal shadings, and dynamic levels. Each musician draws upon these devices to
Read more heighten the drama of Hartmann's sudden mood shifts, as well as to clarify his rich yet never overwrought counterpoint.

The foursome's proficiency and sophistication is every bit as breathtaking in the Bartók Fourth. Note the clarity, independence, and sharp profile of each line in the first movement, no matter how congested the traffic. It's like listening to a close family conversing in animated, intense tones, with everyone talking at same time, finishing each other's thoughts, yet somehow not interrupting one another. The Prestissimo floats over its bar lines at such a fast clip that the movement seems over before it starts. But isn't that why God invented the repeat mode, so you can hear what you missed on the first go-round? While the hushed, non-vibrato chords in the third movement are appropriately spooky, a fuller-bodied sonority would have provided a more solid harmonic underpinning to the cello's melody. Contrasts between "piano" and "pianissimo" seem overly exaggerated.

The famous pizzicato movement takes wing as the displaced rhythms playfully collide, but the Allegro Molto's slashing fortissimo chords are brutally executed to the point where it becomes difficult to ascertain the pitches Bartók specifies (which doesn't happen in the gentler, more speech-like stereo Vegh Quartet Bartók cycle, still my favorite). Such quibbles, I hasten to add, do not detract from the high quality ensemble values and stunning musicianship that inform these very special performances. Any rating less than a 10/10 here is tantamount to an insult.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 "Carillon" by Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Performer:  Ulf Schneider (Violin), Thomas Zehetmair (Violin), Françoise Groben (Cello),
Ruth Killius (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zehetmair String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1933; Germany 
Quartet for Strings no 4, Sz 91 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Françoise Groben (Cello), Ulf Schneider (Violin), Thomas Zehetmair (Violin),
Ruth Killius (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zehetmair String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Budapest, Hungary 

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