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Jed Distler, February 2014

The Escher’s interpretations yield little, if anything, to the Schoenberg Quartet’s Chandos edition and the pioneering LaSalle Quartet cycle on DG, and often present markedly different readings.

Naxos’ first-rate sonics and annotations add to this release’s attractions… © 2014 Read complete review

Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, January 2014

The recording has good sound, and the Escher Quartet…plays with commitment and accuracy. They have a gritty tone quality that’s essential for this style of music. If you’re new to this rediscovered master, the music is terrific…it’s worth it. © 2014 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, December 2013

For anyone with an interest in the 20th century evolution of the string quartet this is essential listening. All of this music has been recorded before…Other versions seem to be on full price release so this Naxos version benefits from a considerable price advantage even before one considers the exceptional quality of the music-making. Even in a Naxos catalogue bulging with fine performances of chamber music this strikes me as one of the best. Certainly Volume 2 is eagerly awaited. © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Remy Franck
Pizzicato, December 2013

Exciting! © 2013 Pizzicato

Matthew Rye
The Strad, November 2013

It’s not the easiest music to take in at a first hearing, such is its emotional range, but the Escher musicians prove to be exemplary guides, with playing that is unimpeachable in its technical accomplishment, sense of ensemble and rhythmical sharpness. © 2013 The Strad Read complete review

Phil Muse
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

Caroline Gill
Gramophone, October 2013

The Escher Quartet manage the evolving landscape of these works seamlessly: their ability to absorb changes in style, melody and mood with the fluid grace of a figure skater not only makes sense of the kind of constantly morphing music that forms the basis of the Fourth Quartet but also makes interesting the sort of angular, mannerist material that defines the Third.

…whatever the reason, that the disc is designated Vol 1 is a promising indicator that a definitive set of the quartets will soon sit on the shelves… © 2013 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2013

Spending his teenage years in a Brahms-dominated Vienna, Alexander Zemlinsky was to reach maturity as musical Austria had fallen into the hands of atonalists. Much of his career had been spent as a highly regarded theatre conductor, bringing into the world many of today’s great operas. The present disc is one of two that are devoted to his four numbered quartets written through much of his life. Beginning in 1896 with a melodic score, he passed through many stylistic phases arriving in the atonal world of 1936 with the Fourth composed in memory of Alban Berg. Both works are challenging to the performers, the New York based Escher String Quartet sounding very assured with their squeaky-clean intonation, and they don’t duck out of the fast tempos required in the Burleske movement of both quartets. They are very good at capturing sound colours, of which both works abound, and in the last two movements of the Fourth they bring the sadness Zemlinsky felt at loosing his young friend. Why he composed the Two Movements (Zwei Satz) is unclear as they are not shaped to form part of a longer score. For whatever reason, they are inherently sad by nature. Performances of the four quartets have been uncommonly fortunate on disc, this new set offering a very attractive and inexpensive way of exploring the composer. © David’s Review Corner

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