Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 6,
cpo 777 393-2 (77:10)
The Danel Quartet continues its series of Weinberg’s complete string quartets. I missed Volume 2; my review of Volume 1 appeared in
The earliest work on
this disc dates from 1946. At the time, the String Quartet No. 6 was the most ambitious and emotionally complex thing composed by Weinberg; in both respects, it surpassed the string quartets written up to that time by his great good friend Shostakovich. In many respects its six movements—three fast ones; a slow, canonic Adagio; a ghostly dance Moderato with more than a passing resemblance to Prokofiev’s
Romeo and Juliet
; and a grim
chorale with agitated outbursts—illustrate the deliberate imbalances that would become a fixture of his music in his last years. The quartet was dedicated to Georgi Sviridov, then a progressive and one of Shostakovich’s favorite students. (Ironically, Sviridov would later break with his friends, becoming an orthodox Communist Party member and virulent critic of Shostakovich.) The work was banned in 1948, one of the many victims caught in what is now believed to have been crossfire between two groups of administrative
. Though the ban was soon lifted, Weinberg maintained a low profile for some time to come. The public premiere is believed to have been a performance given by the Danel Quartet in 2007, at the University of Manchester.
The String Quartet No. 8 from 1959 suffered no such fate, and was given its first performance that year by the celebrated Borodin Quartet. The work is in a single movement, in three divisions. The first initially resembles a slow, sorrowful introduction, before developing a poignant melody at length. The second is a lightly sardonic,
rondo with overtones of East European Jewish folk music, leading imperceptibly into a wildly busy allegro that distorts earlier material. Gradually, the energy expends itself, leading to a soft passage that brings back reminiscences of the first section to furnish an effective close.
With the Fifteenth Quartet we jump to 1980, during a four-year period that saw the composition of four of Weinberg’s final string quartets. (The Quartet No. 17 was to be completed in 1987.) It is the most formally experimental of the lot, in nine relatively short movements. The work pursues a trajectory from contentment (the first theme of the opening movement is a cousin to the one that leads off Shostakovich’s First Quartet), through unease, to militant defiance—the canonic trumpets of the fifth movement bear more than a passing resemblance to the hunting horns of the Sixth Quartet’s second movement, though with a very different expressive purpose—then triumph, to a sense of sullen anger, and finally a sad lyricism that refuses to discover any happy resolution. As in a number of late works by Weinberg, instrumental techniques and contrapuntal procedures suggest the influence of Bartók.
My reactions to this release by the Danels mirrors some of my previous observations. Technically, they are expert in this extremely difficult music. The aforementioned fifth movement of the Fifteenth Quartet finds them charging ahead with vigor, not a hair out of place, as in the
playing and canonic entries of the seventh movement. The sudden, chameleon-like shifts of tempo and mood in the Sixth Quartet’s third movement are managed with ease; so are the bittersweet songlike passages that Weinberg applies for haunting contrast. But there’s also somewhat more emotional involvement than in that first volume of the series (cpo 777 313-2). The pizzicato march in the darker strings that leads off the Fifteenth Quartet’s eighth movement has a measure of the brutality required, even if it doesn’t go far enough, and the Eighth Quartet’s third section has the required shrillness without losing any of the group’s penchant for absolute textural clarity.
Definitely recommended. Fans of this fine composer will not want to do without this survey, and it furnishes an excellent introduction to his chamber music, as well.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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