, November 2010
The rather odd title of this release by Switzerland’s Casal Quartet certainly describes the musical contents, which collectively are enough to leave the listener who really goes along for the ride emotionally wrung out. The album presents works from three centuries—beginning with the 19th—that seem to take their energy from inner psychological turmoil, mastered by the application of musical form. The title also describes the performances, which can be fairly described as violent, and which, especially in the case of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95, attempt to recapture the shocking quality the music had at its premiere, which had to wait for several years in the case of the Beethoven. The Casal Quartet’s performance of that work is worth the price of admission here, with extreme slashing attacks, tempo fluctuations, and tonal distortion all straining against the incredible compression of the music in Beethoven’s tersest compositions. The Janáček String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata,” of 1923 is loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s story of the same name, but is a good deal more sympathetic to the protagonists than Tolstoy’s grimly Christian-vengeful fable. The Casal Quartet’s heated approach works less well here, for it tends to disturb the music’s narrative aspect. However, it’s hardly boring. The final String Quartet No. 1, “Geborstener Satz” (Burst Movement), of Swiss composer Dieter Ammann, offers Bartók expanded into the realm of extended technique; it has nowhere near the depth of the first two pieces, but it provides a slam-bang finale. The project gets demerits for cheesy graphic design, but even that somehow contributes to an X factor associated with the in-your-face aesthetic of the whole thing. Well worth hearing, especially for the Beethoven.