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Phil Muse
Atlanta Audio Society, June 2009

I highly recommend the version [of Berg’s Lyric Suite] by the New Zealand String Quartet

American Record Guide, January 2008

This would be an ideal first recording for people who have always wanted to listen to Alban Berg's chamber music but might worry about not understanding or enjoying it because of the 12-tone idiom. It is also a fine choice for people who know and love this music, because of the exceptional quality of the playing. These musicians play the Lyric Suite so beautifully that they seem to transcend the atonal material and get straight at the essence of the music, which we now know was written as a veiled confession of love. Berg completed it in 1925, and it was performed the following year, but it was not until long after his death that it was discovered he had secretly dedicated the piece to Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, the wife of one of his friends. VI is a wordless setting of Baudelaire's De Profundis.

This reading, like the reading of Berg's 1910 Quartet, is light and resonant; and even though they play with rhythmic precision, this ensemble never accents anything inappropriately. The musicians clearly understand the organization of the music, but that organization takes a back seat to the quality of sound, purity of intonation, balance, integrity of phrasing, and sense of forward-moving energy that makes this recording so enjoyable.

Hugo Wolfs Italian Serenade is a fine companion to the Berg pieces, as well an ideal vehicle for the New Zealand Quartet to display their buoyant bow strokes and see just how lightly, joyfully, and intelligently they can play together.

Steven E. Ritter
Fanfare, November 2007

…the New Zealand String Quartet has given us this gift of an almost perfect recital, as good as I have ever heard in these pieces, and at the slowly increasing but still great Naxos price. These four guys and gals must have some formidable exposure to Angst and party-time in New Zealand, for their readings presuppose an experience and musical maturity that few quartets can show in this music. Very warmly recommended. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

David Vernier, September 2007

Perhaps it's the passage of time, or it's simply the New Zealand String Quartet's embracing, unselfconscious style and illuminating technique, but the atonal sounds of Alban Berg's String Quartet Op. 3 sure seem a lot closer to late-19th century romanticism than they did 40 or so years ago when listeners in my generation first paid attention to Berg's music. And since the work was written almost 100 years ago, that's as it should be, as is the fact that it's now much easier to get past the larger and still-challenging sonic picture to appreciate the inner textural and motivic details.

Of course, our ability to really hear and follow what's going on depends on the performance--and these four musicians may be the best on disc (surpassing the Leipzig and Pražák quartets) in all-important matters of linear clarity, dynamic shading, and sustaining the developmental tension throughout Op. 3's two long, difficult movements. In the Lyric Suite, ensemble unanimity and precision in the increasingly fast odd-numbered movements is critical, and the New Zealanders not only accomplish this but also never forget the intrinsic drama and emotional intensity that haunts this music, especially impressive in the Allegro misterioso and Adagio appassionato movements at the heart of the work.

Indeed, as you listen to these works afresh, you not only marvel at the individual players' virtuosity, but you also have to appreciate that the relatively warm yet pleasingly "edgy" quality to the sound and the oneness of spirit in the interpretations come from the highest-order functioning of the well-integrated collective parts of a mature, vital body--that is, a string quartet that's been together a long time, each member sharing life and breath in the music they make together. This is one reason we listen to the great string quartets--and besides the chance to hear Berg's fascinating and formidable scores again, that's the reason you shouldn't miss this extraordinary recording. (Incidentally, before Naxos releases this quartet's upcoming Mendelssohn cycle, the label might want to correct its misspelling of cellist Rolf Gjelsten's name.)

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, August 2007

The New Zealand String Quartet, engaged in a complete cycle of the Mendelssohn string quartets for Naxos, presents intense readings of Berg’s two string quartets (the Lyric Suite is sometimes referred to as String Quartet No. 2).

The bi-movement Op. 3 work reveals many of the composer’s hallmarks - wedge-shaped lines, superbly crafted motivic workings that betray Schoenberg’s watchful eye - over its twenty-minute span. The Quartet is captured in the superb acoustics of the Victoria University of Wellington where they have been Quartet in Residence since 1991. The playing has a burnished tone and there is a secure grasp of the structural dynamics. They impart a rawness to parts of the second movement that takes the surface closer to Schoenberg while capturing a sense of the massive. The references to Mahler’s Second Symphony must surely refer to this sense of a vast time-scale. The ghostly section just after eight minutes into the finale is particularly finely realized; its almost spectral quality just right. The recording’s clarity - at the hands of producer Wayne Laird - is a real bonus at times like this. Of course they go head-to-head with groups like the Kronos (Nonesuch), the supreme Arditti (on Naïve, with the same coupling but shorn of the Wolf) and the LaSalle (DG, but apparently only currently available as part of a boxed set). That they hold their own is testimony to their interpretative stature and to their technical prowess.

The Lyric Suite is clearly the more mature work of the two, hyper-assured and rich in the extra-musical reference so beloved of this composer. The New Zealand Quartet plays this as chamber music par excellence. The lines intertwine sinuously. At times the spirit of the dance seems to want to burst forth. This is especially so in the Andante amoroso. At times there is an almost desperate edge to the appassionato feel of the fourth movement Adagio. This is a heady interpretation of heady music. Contrasts are marked - try the penultimate movement, the Presto delirando - while the final Largo desolato is the epitome of heartfelt expressionist angst.

Finally, the seven-minute Wolf piece is a ray of sunshine whose harmonic language and general world is not so far removed from the Berg as to seem out of place. In some ways it is the ideal way to close the disc if one listens straight through; presumably fifty minutes was deemed too short a playing time. All members of the quartet have a way of phrasing that can imply a sly raised eyebrow or even a wink.

Quite why these recordings sat in the Naxos vaults for nearly three years is beyond me. I know the release schedule from that company is, to say the least, frantic, but these are urgent interpretations that fully deserve to be before the paying public.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, July 2007

As a graduation piece Alban Berg's String Quartet was his first foray into those uncharted territories of atonality, and spoke of the influence Arnold Schoenberg held over his pupil. In two movements that are more extended than his highly distilled music that was to follow, and at times slipping back into the tonality that surrounded him, it is, almost a hundred years later, still as to most ears as unapproachable as it was at the time of composition. It was not until fifteen years later that he returned to the genre with the six short movements that form the Lyric Suite. Though it was later discovered to have a story behind it, the feel is one of abstract thought that, as with the quartet, slips back into he comfort zone of tonality. Turn the clock back to the early recordings of both works and the music emerges with an intention of sounding ‘modern' and rather shocking. That is far from the case with the perfectly balanced New Zealand Quartet who sound totally at ease with the scores, the difficulties brushed aside, dynamics observed but never overstated as in many previous recordings. At the same time they stand back from the music never becoming so emotionally involved as the benchmark Alban Berg Quartet recording of the two works. Which viewpoint you want - and will also reflect your view of Berg - is very much to your taste. The two works makes for short measure in the ABQ release, though Wolf's Italian Serenade here makes a curious coupling. It is immaculately played, the close and tight New Zealand ambiance well suited to the Berg.

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