Notes and Editorial Reviews
Although both DG and Brilliant Classics have reissued the LaSalle Quartet’s 1968/70 Second Viennese School survey on CD, this latest incarnation via DG’s Collector’s Edition also includes the ensemble’s pioneering early digital recordings of the four Alexander Zemlinsky quartets and the First Quartet by Hans Erich Apostel, a pupil of Schoenberg and Berg.
The performances continue to wear well, especially in the Third and Fourth Schoenberg quartets’ rhythmic propulsion and clear delineation of motives. I personally prefer the roomier ambience and warmer overall tone quality that the Schoenberg Quartet brought to their Chandos recordings of their namesake’s first two quartets and to Schoenberg’s early, faux-Dvorák D major work from 1897, but that takes nothing away from the LaSalle’s focus and rigor. However, in the Second Quartet’s final movement, some listeners may find Margaret Price’s soprano voice a little too prominent in the mix, particularly with its heavy vibrato. For this reason I recommend Dawn Upshaw’s lighter, purer timbre and sensitive word painting in the Arditti Quartet version.
The LaSalle Quartet intensifies Webern’s spare, exposed textures with hard-hitting accents and a generally less rounded and sensual approach to soft chordal tuttis and wide melodic interval leaps in comparison with the Quartetto Italiano’s contemporaneous Philips recording. Similarly, the LaSalle’s angular, sometimes abrasive way with Berg’s Op. 3 Quartet and Lyric Suite differs from the more blended balances and malleable phrasing characterizing the Leipzig Quartet’s MDG recording.
The LaSalle’s Zemlinsky recordings helped draw new attention to this underrated composer, who also was Schoenberg’s one-time teacher. His first two quartets superficially evoke Brahms, particularly the moody, large-scale No. 2, while Nos. 3 and 4 typify the chromatic ambiguity of his colleagues’ earlier works as if rewritten by Bartók, such as in the ponticello effects in No. 3’s variation movement and the whirlwind pizzicato sequences in the suite-like No. 4’s Vivace Burleske.
Apostel’s 1935 First Quartet is not just filler, but a colorful, superbly crafted masterpiece. Listen first to its brief Presto movement, where ideas bounce across registers and land in surprising places as they keep your ears off guard, or sample the hypnotically sustained fourth-movement opening passage, and you’ll be eager to take in the whole piece. The Zemlinsky and Apostel quartets have since been recorded by other ensembles, yet here, as well as in the Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern cycles, the LaSalle’s technical polish and stylistic affinity stand the test of time.
-- Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com