Notes and Editorial Reviews
TACET 170 (70:37)
The second subgroup of “Tost” quartets is my first acquaintance with this cycle, which is now at a well-advanced stage. That the Auryn is a class act is evident from the word go in No. 1 in A: alert, well focused, and tight-knit in ensemble. The first violin is often
primus inter pares
in these works, and his virtuoso flights are dispatched with shapely panache and a
well-judged degree of soloistic freedom. The second-half repeat is observed (and consistently throughout the set). The Adagio is taken at a nicely flowing pace, its airy lyricism beautifully conveyed. The marvelous cadenza juggernaut at bars 61 ff. is impressively realized in its combination of slowly gathering weight with improvisatory freedom. The Minuet goes at a buoyant one to the bar, and the finale has an irresistible surging flow. Comparison with their former mentors, the Amadeus (DG), is intriguing: the old Anglicized Germans attack the first movement with a larger-than-life vibrancy that would be hard for anyone to match, and makes the Auryn sound a little pallid by comparison (although its response to dynamic nuances is keen, its deliberate underplaying of single
is occasionally overdone). The Amadeus displays an earthier richness in the Adagio, but its Minuet is heavier and its finale has less light and shade than its protégés.
No. 2 in F Minor (the celebrated “Razor” quartet, whose hoary old anecdote is debunked in the notes) struck me as less successful overall; the opening double variations are authoritatively dispatched, but with a tendency to a kind of gliding suaveness—very beautiful in its way, but I find myself craving more friction, or resistance, to the tone (especially the first violin in the major-mode variations). More rhythmic and tonal bite would again not go amiss in the second-movement Allegro, though its oppressively eerie atmosphere is well caught. But the strict contrapuntal “ars combinatorial” of the Minuet is excessively smoothed out, imparting an inappropriately tentative feeling. The performance finds perfect form, though, in an exciting account of the F-Major Presto finale, whose elusive character, alternately tensely conspiratorial and swashbuckling, is very well captured. By way of comparison, I prefer the greater rhythmic solidity and tonal weight of the Angeles Quartet (Philips) in three movements out of four, but its staid finale is no match for the Auryn.
The sinuous first movement of No. 3 in B? receives a subtle, nuanced performance, occasionally slightly over-ethereal in feeling (see the tense first violin/cello dialogue of the second theme—here the Auryn is the polar opposite of the Aeolian [Decca], which goes over the line to an unattractive grittiness; the Tatrai [Hungaroton] strikes a nice balance in its understated brand of deadpan rusticity). The slow movement is beautifully done, with wonderfully soaring flights from the first violin. Once again, its Presto finale finds the requisite headlong drive—truly exhilarating!
The recording is beautifully balanced and natural. All in all, an impressive release that will be self-recommending to collectors of the series, or to anyone wanting a single disc of these incomparable masterpieces.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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