Audio Video Club of Atlanta
, November 2013
The music of Alexander von Zemlinsky…is beginning to receive due recognition in our own time.
Significantly, the Escher Quartet, now comprised of Adam Barnett-Hart, Violin I; Wu Jie, Violin II; Pierre Lapointe, Viola; and Dane Johansen, Cello, chose to name themselves after the famous Dutch graphic artist in whose work natural and geometrical forms tend to morph into one another in ways that are both lyrical and mathematically precise. The Eschers see this as a metaphor for what they aim to achieve in the way of strongly individual components working together to achieve a satisfying, if sometimes surprising, whole.
Broadly speaking, Quartet No 3 (1924) has a prevailing mood of cool austerity, while Quartet No 4 (1936) has more variety of emotion. The generalization will not take us far. Quartet No 3 does indeed begin in an overcast mood, slowly and cautiously, with the composer making much out of seemingly little in the Theme and Variations that follow. But the mood changes in the otherworldly slow movement, Romanze, and becomes playful, even optimistic, in the energetic Burleske that serves as finale.
The contrasts are even more pronounced in Quartet No 4, in the form of a suite in six movements, perhaps a reflection of the different sides of Zemlinsky’s recently deceased colleague Alban Berg, for whom he wrote this work as a tribute. The first movement, a Praeludium with solemnly expressive chords, is followed by a hyperactive, frenetic Burleske, and then an Adagietto that is more intense than we might have a right to expect from the title, and a jaunty Intermezzo. Only in the fifth movement, an Adagio in the form of a Barcarolle with variations, does Zemlinsky express his personal feelings for the deceased Berg. The finale, an energetic double fugue, reflects yet another aspect of the subject.
As a revealing insight into Zemlinsky’s compositional processes, we have Two Pieces that he composed in 1927, perhaps with the idea of making them parts of a larger composition. Both have plenty of intriguing musical substance on their own, and challenge the performers’ virtuosity as well, with explosive pizzicati, expressive glissandi, and sul ponticello bowing. © 2013 Audio Video Club of Atlanta Read complete review