TCHAIKOVSKY String Quartet No. 3. PROKOFIEV Sonata for Two Violins. G. PROKOFIEV String Quartet No. 3 • Ruysdael Qrt • COBRA 0033 (76:42)
These CDs bear publication dates from 2008 to 2011, but all three arrived simultaneously this month; strange are the workings of classical CD distribution. The rubric for this series is Russian Generations, and yes, composer Gabriel Prokofiev (b.1975) is the grandson of Sergei, whom he (obviously) never knew. While this conceit might be an interesting basis for a concert, or series of concerts, I’m not sure how successful it is on recordings; a collector wishing to obtain the complete quartets of Tchaikovsky, for example, would need to buy all three CDs—and it is by no means clear that lovers of Tchaikovsky’s music would be interested in that of Gabriel Prokofiev.
Practical considerations aside, the Ruysdael Quartet, a young Dutch group, seems equally at home in all three eras represented here—two generations apart, in fact, the compositions being separated respectively by 60–80 years. Tchaikovsky’s quartets have not always fared well on CD, but these readings are as compelling as any that have come along in recent years, at least on a par with those of the Klenke Quartet (reviewed in Fanfare 34:1). The senza vibrato opening of No. 1 is most affecting, as is the distinction—often ignored—between piano and pianissimo in the opening two phrases. The Andante cantabile is phrased with an appropriate simplicity, but with great expressiveness; the purity of tone and intonation make this thrice-familiar music a pleasure to hear. In the Second Quartet the Ruysdaels produce a prodigious amount of sound where called for, but they never become ugly; everything goes right, including the deft handling of the uneven-meter Scherzo. The Third is ideally paced, making the huge opening movement cohere well; the only complaint is that in the third movement, first violinist Joris van Rijn’s sound is more dampened by muting than that of the other players, making for some slight sonic imbalances.
The two quartets and the two-violin sonata of Sergei Prokofiev are not music that I know well, but the Ruysdael Quartet’s performances of them are committed and compelling. I’m not yet completely sold on the odd folkisms of the Second Quartet, but clearly the Ruysdaels are: Their playing of both quartets, like that of the Tchaikovsky Second, is of great intensity and, where called for, great lyricism, the ensemble razor-sharp. In the sonata, van Rijn and second violinist Emi Ohi Resnick are equals, their tones and articulations admirably matched.
Gabriel Prokofiev’s music is a curious mix. I’m hardly the expert on 21st-century music, but I can report that this is music of great rhythmic propulsion, with extensive use of ostinatos showing the dual influences of Minimalism and of popular dance music (which Prokofiev plays as a DJ, his “day job”). Using mostly conventional pitch materials and means of sound production—no bowing on the cello peg, as in the wonderful Hoffnung cartoon—this is music whose harmonies wouldn’t shock Webern, nor its rhythms Stravinsky. Indeed, the 2010 Third Quartet, despite its Stravinskyan opening, seems more lyrical than the first two.
In sum, the playing on these discs is of the first rank; the decision to buy, then, depends on your budget and your sense of adventure. Practical considerations aside, these are performances worth having.
Quartet for Strings no 2 in F major, Op. 92by Sergei Prokofiev Orchestra/Ensemble:
Period: 20th Century Written: 1941; USSR Venue: Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, The Netherl Length: 22 Minutes 17 Secs.
Quartet for Strings No 2by Gabriel Prokofiev Orchestra/Ensemble:
Written: 2006 Venue: Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, The Netherl Length: 3 Minutes 49 Secs.