Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 3,
for Horn and Strings
Zemlinsky Qrt; Christoph Ess (hn)
PRAGA 250281 (SACD: 68:51)
The string quartet was a medium that obviously appealed to Glazunov, considering that he composed seven numbered quartets and half a dozen other variously titled works scored for either a string quartet alone or in combination with another
instrument. If one wonders then why the composer’s quartets haven’t been accorded much notice and aren’t often recorded or performed live in public, the reasons, as Barry Brenesal observes in a
35:2 review of Glazunov’s Sixth Quartet, “aren’t difficult to discover.” No performances of the three works on this disc could possibly argue Glazunov’s case more strongly than the dedicated efforts of the Zemlinsky Quartet and horn player Christoph Ess; yet, for all their labors, the music fails to persuade or move us.
Glazunov is said to have inherited Tchaikovsky’s lyricism, Balakirev’s nationalism, Rimsky-Korsakov’s flair for colorful orchestration, and Sergei Taneyev’s contrapuntal skill and academic bent. And indeed, when at his inspired best, as in his highly popular Violin Concerto, Glazunov could exhibit many of those dominant genes contributing to his musical makeup. But more often than not, as in these string quartets, it’s his recessive genes that come to the fore. Charges that academicism, eclecticism, and conservatism conspired to rob him of genuine inspiration and originality seem to be warranted.
The so-called “Slavonic” Quartet, or “Slavic,” as it’s sometimes called, does resonate with Balakirev’s nationalism, but one waits in vain for the memorable melodic swell of Tchaikovsky’s lyricism to arrive. The A-Minor Quartet drops even the pretense of nationalism, leaving little but dry, academic note-spinning; and speaking of which, there are many notes to be played. These quartets are difficult in the extreme—another reason they may not be performed often—with a first-violin part in particular that demands a high level of virtuosity. The concluding movement of the A-Minor Quartet allows for little respite in a seemingly nonstop rush of rapid runs.
As indicated, the Zemlinsky Quartet, in league with Christoph Ess for the brief
for horn and string quartet, does as much for these works as anyone possibly could. Playing is elegant and as characterful and expressive as the music allows, and Praga’s SACD is gloriously rich and full, a magnificent example for how a string quartet recording should sound. This may be recommended then both to completists and to those willing to accept lowered expectations of the music in exchange for high expectations of performance and recording.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Idyll for Horn and Strings by Alexander Glazunov
Christoph Eb (French Horn)
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