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Schnittke: Chamber Music Vol 1 - String Quartets / Molinari Quartet

Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Atma Classique   Catalog #: 2634   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Number of Discs: 2 
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CD:  $24.99
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHNITTKE The 4 String Quartets. Canon in Memoriam Igor Stravinsky Molinari Qrt ATMA ACD2 2634 (2 CDs: 103: 39)

The Molinari Quartet, founded in 1997, is a Canadian ensemble—specifically, from Quebec, I believe. Its previous releases for ATMA Classique include the complete string quartets by R. Murray Schafer, and a series of three discs from the Concours Molinari. The latter three contain music composed for the Molinari Quartet International Competition for Composition Read more between 2001 and 2006. Clearly, new music is this ensemble’s bread and butter, so the appearance of this collection of Alfred Schnittke’s string quartets is not surprising, as Schnittke made important contributions to this genre, beginning in 1966 with the Quartet No. 1.

The most obvious competition for the present release comes from the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch 79500-2), which recorded these works in 1987 (Quartet No. 3) and the rest between 1994 and 1997. Robert Kirzinger reviewed that set favorably in Fanfare 22:2, although he spent more time discussing the music than the performances themselves. I don’t like it as much as Kirzinger apparently does. I find it serviceable but not particularly inspired; the Kronos Quartet does not dig deeply into this music. The players make it seem more difficult than it actually is. In the first three quartets and the Canon, I prefer the Tale Quartet from Sweden (BIS CD-467 and CD-547), and in Quartet No. 4, I prefer the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI CDC 7 54660 2). The Quartet No. 4 actually was composed for the last ensemble.

The Molinari Quartet’s tempos are closer to those of the Tale Quartet and the Alban Berg Quartet. (The Kronos Quartet generally is on the fast side.) I find these musicians somewhat more thoughtful, and therefore preferable to the Kronos Quartet, but not as good as the other two ensembles. Again, there is an unwillingness or an inability to give ideally distinctive profiles to each of the four major works, and so the music is made to sound tedious instead of trenchant. The Third Quartet (which comes first on these discs, perhaps because it is the most “popular”) is shortchanged of some of its brutality and eeriness. Schnittke based this work on a cadence from Orlando di Lasso’s Stabat Mater , the fugue subject from Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge , and Shostakovich’s musical signature, D-S-C-H (or D-E?-C-B). The Tale Quartet makes this quartet into a harrowing experience. The Kronos Quartet treats it glibly. The Molinari Quartet is more penetrating, but it seems to want to smooth down Schnittke’s polystylism and the horror of his music’s juxtapositions and stylistic extremes. On the other hand, the quartet’s more lyrical style lets the music gasp for air more frequently than with the other ensembles mentioned here. This, then, is smooth, dignified, and painterly Schnittke, in which the music’s often incipient hysteria is played down. The Canadian engineers do a good job. BIS, however, gives the Tale Quartet an almost alarming sonic profile.

The punchline is that the Alban Berg Quartet’s version is out of print, although ArkivMusic is offering it (at a rather inflated price, for a CD-R) as part of its reissue program. The Tale Quartet’s discs, even more expensive, might be hard to find now. So, if the choice is between the Kronos Quartet and the Molinari Quartet, I recommend the latter.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 4 by Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1989; USSR 
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983; USSR 
Quartet for Strings no 2 by Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1980; USSR 
Quartet for Strings no 1 by Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; USSR 
Canon in memoriam Igor Stravinsky by Alfred Schnittke
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Molinari Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1971; USSR 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Recommended: Worthy Acquisition  July 15, 2016 By L. Wilborn (Richwood, TX) See All My Reviews "This double-CD album of Schnittke's string quartets is beautifully played and excellently recorded. I am not a big fan of avant-garde music, but I can appreciate the composer's style. The sounds produced by the string quartet are amazing and sometimes other worldly: a testament to Schnittke's composing. This music has expanded my appreciation of twentieth century string quartets. Excellent performance and recorded sound make this a worthy acquisition. Recommended for those who are already familiar with this musical style, and for those who want to explore and expand." Report Abuse
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