Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet in c.
String Quartet in c
QUINTONE 10002 (SACD: 59:01)
Beloved by many—and not so much by others—mainly for his symphonies, Bruckner is largely unknown for the handful of works he wrote as student exercises. Among them is this String Quartet in C Minor, written in 1862 as a prerequisite to instruction in orchestration. Considering that Bruckner was 38 at the time—he was born in 1824—this may seem a fairly
advanced age at which to be undertaking essentially beginning academic studies, but he was a late bloomer; his main symphonic journey didn’t get under way until later in the 1860s, with the first version of his Symphony No. 1 coming in 1866.
The quartet has been recorded before, and Michael Cameron, who admitted to being no Bruckner fan, reviewed a Naxos recording of it by the Fine Arts Quartet in
32:5. I haven’t heard that particular version, but I do have the one by the Leipzig String Quartet on MDG, which pairs it, as does the Naxos, with the composer’s string quintet, a later and more fully developed work.
Hans Rott’s C-Minor Quartet has also received prior attention on disc, though ArkivMusic currently lists only this new one by the Israel String Quartet. But back in 2004, the International Hans Rott Society, in collaboration with Acousence Records, put out a CD of the composer’s quartet performed by the Mainz String Quartet, coupled with Rott’s string symphony performed by the Mainz State Theater Philharmonic led by Enrico Delamboye.
Hans Rott (1858–84) is altogether a more interesting case than Bruckner, if only because we know so little about him. Rott is the composer whose mental instability was exacerbated by Brahms’s savage criticism of the young man’s Symphony in E Major, in which Brahms accused Rott of plagiarism. Already unbalanced, Rott went completely bonkers. He was forcibly removed from a train and carted off to the loony bin after pulling a pistol on an innocent passenger trying to light a cigar. Rott’s paranoid delusion was that Brahms had planted dynamite on the train and that the man lighting up was about to trigger an explosion that would kill everyone aboard. I guess no one ever bothered to tell Rott that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And now you know why all public conveyances carry No Smoking signs.
This tragicomic story, retold in every Rott reference, has overshadowed much else that’s known of the man. But then, maybe there just isn’t that much to know. As a member of the Viennese Academic Wagner Society, he attended the first Bayreuth Festival. His lodgings became a meeting place for Mahler and Wolf. And, lending particular significance to the inclusion of his quartet on this disc, Rott was Bruckner’s favorite student.
Bruckner’s C-Minor Quartet is for those curious to hear what Bruckner sounded like before he became BRUCKNER. It’s also likely to please those who don’t otherwise take pleasure in BRUCKNER, because the piece sounds like Haydn, Schubert, and Mendelssohn had a big hand in it. Actually, it’s a very accomplished piece of work, clearly demonstrating that Bruckner was well versed in the traditions of string quartet writing from the late 18th through the mid 19th centuries. Interestingly, the one composer whose quartets seem to have played no part in Bruckner’s student exercise was Beethoven. There’s not a trace of Ludwig anywhere.
While Schumann’s mental disorder didn’t really manifest itself in his music, unless it was in gradually diminishing inspiration toward the end, Rott’s madness is on display front and center. The introductory measures to his quartet are among the creepiest music I’ve heard. He must have been thinking of the slow introduction to Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet when he wrote it, since the piece begins with a pulsating repeated note in the cello. But what passes for dissonance in Mozart is agreeable consonance compared to what answers the cello in Rott’s quartet. I’m not sure it would even submit to conventional harmonic analysis. This is followed by a ferocious
that reminds me of the wild
(Cossack stomping dance) that erupts in the finale of Borodin’s A-Major Quartet, except that Rott couldn’t possibly have heard Borodin’s work, which was written in 1879, because his own quartet was written between 1878 and 1880.
In any case, this is one weird piece. Every one of its five movements is interrupted by manic outbursts and musical non sequiturs. It’s nothing at all like Rott’s E-Major Symphony, which Brahms trashed. I have Hyperion’s recording of that work with Gerhard Samuel conducting the Cincinnati Philharmonia Orchestra, and though it was composed at exactly the same time as this quartet, it sounds quite normal for its period. The quartet is something else, definitely strange.
The Israel String Quartet was founded in 1957 by members of the Israel Philharmonic. The ensemble has changed personnel a number of times, but its chairs continue to be filled by IPO players. Either several personnel changes have occurred since this recording was made in 2008 or the ensemble’s website is out of date—I suspect the former—for only one of the players on this disc, first violinist Yigal Tuneh, is named as a member there. What’s relevant, in any case, is that the Israel String Quartet, as it was constituted in 2008 for this recording, is outstanding. Both works are played magnificently, and the Rott has to be heard to be believed. A fascinating release, and one I highly recommend to anyone interested in a unique pairing of string quartet rarities.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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