Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ervin Schulhoff - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 - Five Pieces for String Quartet - Aviv Quartet - Naxos 2010

Let us listen to some of Schulhoff's chamber music for today. This Naxos disc won the critic's choice award and it's a great reading of both quartets and the Five Pieces alike. I only wish Naxos had included Schulhoff's "String Quartet No. 0" in G major, Op. 25 from 1918; this could have been a near-perfect recording, at least in a completist sense-at just 51 minutes certainly there was room for
the early quartet. Quibble aside, the Israeli Aviv Quartet do these highly memorable quartets proud, the performances are just electric!



The "String Quartet No. 1" from 1924 was strongly admired when it was heard at an ISCM (International Society for New Music) concert the following year. It’s a terrific work, one that manages to fuse Bohemian and Slovakian folkloric elements with tensile Stravinsky-inspired qualities, and more besides. One hears the drones right from the first movement, and the feeling of attaca vitality is convulsive. Indeed, the mixture of powerfully accented rhythms and folk-dance imperatives reminds us that Stravinsky’s Concertino for string quartet had been written only four years before and its microcosmic example was surely influential on Schulhoff. The skittering, muted elements of the Allegretto open out into "malinconia grotesca" and it’s for each quartet to convey that spirit with as much intensity and accuracy as possible. The rural Slovak tune in the scherzo is dynamic and hugely effective, whereas the balance of the quartet then falls on the unexpected, slow final movement. 

The dance patterned and brief affairs that make up the "Five Pieces for String Quartet" are robust and magnetic, 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 gripping. 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 String Quartet No. 2 hasn’t received as much attention as the two companion works, something for which one can be grateful to the Aviv players. It has a theme and variations second movement, an "Allegro gajo"-Czech speakers will enjoy the resonance of the word-and a similarly compact four movement structure as the earlier work. However it is the more conventional. The melancholic viola statement that starts the slow theme has, unusually for the composer, a degree of pathos attached to it in the ensuing variation. There’s a Slavic dance in variation three, with a degree of syncopated jazz as well. The rusticities of the folkloric gajo movement are even more explicit than the "Alla Czeca" movement in the Five Pieces. And the ruminative start of the finale picks up on the uneasy tristesse of the variations before control is re-established and the work ends on a note of renewed vitality and positivism. I feel that it is safe to assign 'small masterpiece' status to both of these string quartets, but
that's just my opinion. What do the rest of you string quartet lovers think?


More Schulhoff sometime soon..I am not a fan of complete "overload" posting for any composer,
and happily there's many more Schulhoff gems to be explored...so stay tuned (well tuned..ahem)


Enjoy!

Schulhoff_Music_For_String_Quartet_Tzadik.zip

http://www28.zippyshare.com/v/H2s01TbG/file.html

14 comments:

Toon van Dijk said...

Many tanks and regards from The Netherlands.
Veel dank en groeten uit Nederland.

Anonymous said...

I like it, fun. Thanks

Johannes R. Becher said...

Thanks for yet another Schulhoff to explore, although it's perhaps too much in a row. This is no easy stuff and you post more than I can listen to and comment on! That said I've found these string quartets quite difficult. I'll try and give them another listening.

Btw, this weekend I learned about the existence of a nice cd called 'Les voix de l'oubli' with flute pieces by Schulhoff and Leo Smit. Somebody has uploaded it into youtube, just search for 'les voix de l'oubli' and it will be the first match.

Searching for bargains I entered fnac.fr and discovered there are quite a few nice cds by three, four, five euros, this one among them. I didn't hesitate to profit from this chance to get this jewel as well as to get ECM, Chandos and DG releases for half a Naxos' price. I had to restrain myself a bit because fnac.fr charges very high postage fees outside France, but those living in France would do well to take a look at it. It really pays off.

pol peres said...

Many thanks!

vsense said...

Thanks so much for so many treasures!

Johannes R. Becher said...

I'm listening to them once more, this time with my headphones on, and they're not as hard as I thought, rather the opposite is true. Very enjoyable.

Tzadik said...

Halo Toon, you are welcome vriend!

Tzadik said...

You are welcome anon, it is indeed fun, one might even take it with them to Disneyland :P

Tzadik said...

Hi Johannes, you are as always, quite welcome friend. Schulhoff overdosing is indeed possible; symptoms might include feelings of euphoria, atonality deficit disorder (onset of, or cure from), "spontaneous conducting" or of course-the neo-classic cold. :P

To be serious, I know the disc you are referring to (w the L Smit) and might own it, I can't remember. ECM, Chandos & DG at half the price of Naxos?? That's really quite good! Also by DG I assume you mean "D.G." and not "Dabringhaus und Grimm", also known as MD&G? That's one of the best labels out there.. So are these new discs or used? When I used to have money to spend, I often would buy used discs on amazon (only the "like new" offerings) if the price was right. Plus, often enough a disc not available from amazon directly, will sometimes be available from a 3rd party seller, out-of-prints if one is lucky. some of the sellers are great. TZ

Tzadik said...

Greetings Pol, you are welcome! Thanks for commenting

Tzadik said...

Hi vsense I'm happy you are enjoying my blog! Thank you for taking the time to show your appreciation, it always means a lot to me :) TZ

Tzadik said...

Johannes nice to hear that the 'second spin' has proven to be more agreeable :)

Johannes R. Becher said...

Hi Tzadik,

yes, I meant Deutsche Grammophon. Brand new, sealed ECM, Chandos, DG and other top brands at prices between three and six euros plus postage, sold by Fnac (no revendors involved). I have the impression in Fnac they need to empty the shelves once in I while and they sell at any price. Needless to say people have purchased frantically and the interesting stuff (the Viktor Ullman symphonies released by Capriccio, for instance) has almost dissappeared by now.

As for the Leo Smit cd it was released by Saphir Productions (a small label specialized in jewish music, it seems) in 2012.

Tzadik said...

Damn I wish I could afford to try the site out (I don't quite have enough music) but too 'cash poor' these days. Will have to remember it though!