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Schulhoff: Music For String Quartet / Aviv Quartet

Schulhoff / Aviv Quartet
Release Date: 04/27/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570965   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Erwin Schulhoff
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aviv String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I don't think that Erwin Schulhoff wrote a dull note in his tragically brief life (he died in 1942 in a Nazi prison camp), and his string quartet output proves this beyond question. The composer took to the medium like a duck to water, and these works from his productive early period are packed with melodic humor and ingenious textural variety achieved through a similar economy of means to Shostakovich's middle quartets. What is more, Schulhoff never takes longer than necessary to say what he needs to say.

The Aviv Quartet may not posesses the lightness and conversational demeanor that give the Kocian Quartet's Supraphon recordings an idiomatic edge, yet the Aviv's glitch-free technical sheen and penchant for slower tempos
Read more allows inner voices more prominence in thicker passages, such as in the First quartet's Allegro giocoso movement. Similarly, the dances so affectionately ribbed in the 1923 Five Pieces benefit from the Kocian Quartet's more characterfully inflected phrasing, yet the Aviv group's stronger contouring of the pizzicato/arco alterations in the Tarantella and in the Second quartet's Allegro gajo will cause listeners to sit up and take notice.

Pressed to choose, I'd recommend the Kocian first, if only because they also include Schulhoff's delightful String Quartet No. 0. However, Naxos' modest cost, vividly detailed sonics, and excellent annotations enhance the Aviv Quartet's polished and serious-minded achievement. Well worth hearing.

--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com


An overlooked modernist thrills, chills and dances.

"Erwin Schulhoff’s music for string quartet is built on forceful rhythms and startling juxtapositions of material; it dances, yes, but with fiery intensity and rough humor. His style is the polar opposite of works like Tchaikovsky’s First Quartet or Borodin’s Second; in the most famous moments of those quartets, the four players sing together with one voice, melodies flowing naturally along in seamless harmony. Schulhoff’s model is a radically different one: here the interplay between instruments sounds not like a romance but like a brilliantly choreographed action-film fight scene, the players darting and weaving about each other, poised and ready to strike.

The First String Quartet comprises three studies in rhythm followed by an agonized slow movement. The first movement is jaunty and refreshingly melodic, with echoes of Stravinsky in an ebullient mood. The second movement is more menacing, the central section’s thematic material given slithering accompaniment, but it is the slow movement, which serves as the quartet’s finale, that acts as this work’s emotional core.

Of the three works on the disc, the First Quartet was most successful during Schulhoff’s lifetime, and its appeal is immediate. This is an engaging and rewarding piece waiting for a concert-hall revival, and, since it is a scant seventeen minutes, the quartet could safely be squeezed onto many a recital program.

The Five Pieces are a suite of dance movements which seem straightforward: a Viennese waltz, a serenade and a tango are among their number. But these works are not for the faint of heart; they are traditional dances viewed through the prism of Stravinsky or, perhaps, Schoenberg, and, like Ravel’s La Valse but with more of a bite, they are probably meant to some degree to be satirical. The waltz is almost unrecognizable as such in the opening bars, but soon becomes irresistible; the other dances are similarly magnetic. The tarantella is a good example: relatively straightforward in form, the harmonies nevertheless make us feel as if we are in the musical equivalent of a house of mirrors.

The Second String Quartet, composed just a year after the First in 1925, is arguably a masterpiece. The first movement finds Schulhoff’s tense style slightly matured, and the slow theme and variations begin with a beautiful viola solo. The highlight of the variations is an amiable folksy dance beginning at roughly the three-minute mark; another intriguing dance, with the unique marking “Allegro gajo,” follows in the third movement, but the finale is a fierce, very modern battle with some of the most thrilling unison playing on the album.

Fortunately for Schulhoff’s legacy, these are terrific performances. The Aviv Quartet have been playing together for a decade now, since they inaugurated their career amid a flurry of international competition victories in 1999, and they sound simply fantastic on this disc. The playing is electric; no position is a weak link. Schulhoff’s music for string quartet has been assembled on another disc, a 1994 Capriccio release, but this Naxos album is more widely available, and at half the price. Neither represents the complete quartet music (a Divertimento has gone unrecorded), but only completists will really be bothered by this quibble.

A terrific introduction to Schulhoff’s chamber music, then, although there are other works (like the surprising Concertino for Flute, Viola and Double Bass) which are more immediately appealing, and although other albums may simply have more music (this one is barely fifty minutes long). But this recording will be an eye-opener for those who prefer their string quartets to be perfume-soaked romantic treasures, and a treasure for admirers of modern chamber music. A good way to expand one’s horizons."

-- Brian Reinhart, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 1 by Erwin Schulhoff
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aviv String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Prague, Czech Republ 
Quartet for Strings no 2 by Erwin Schulhoff
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aviv String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; Prague, Czech Republ 
Pieces (5) for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Aviv String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923; Prague, Czech Republ 

Sound Samples

String Quartet No. 1: I. Presto con fuoco
String Quartet No. 1: II. Allegretto con moto e con malinconia grotesca
String Quartet No. 1: III. Allegro giocoso alla slovacca
String Quartet No. 1: IV. Andante molto sostenuto
5 Pieces: No. 1. Alla Valse Viennese
5 Pieces: No. 2. Alla Serenata
5 Pieces: No. 3. Alla Czeca
5 Pieces: No. 4. Alla Tango Milonga
5 Pieces: No. 5. Alla Tarantella
String Quartet No. 2: I. Allegro agitato
String Quartet No. 2: II. Tema con variazioni: Moderato
String Quartet No. 2: III. Allegro gajo
String Quartet No. 2: IV. Finale: Andante quasi introduzione - Allegro molto

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