Schneiderhahn Quartet = HAYDN: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3; BRAHMS: String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 51, No. 1; SCHUMANN: String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3 – Schneiderhahn Quartet – MeloClassic MC 4001, 74:31 (5/2/14) [www.meloclassic.com] ****:
Meloclassic was founded in by Lynn Ludwig in Germany in December 2013, the label dedicated to releasing previously unissued historical recordings of live radio performances and broadcasts. Whenever possible the discs include original radio announcements and applause. The recordings are meant to serve as historical documents. The sound quality tends to remain extraordinarily quiet, with no trace of tape or wire hiss.
Wolfgang Schneiderhahn (1915-2002) began his international concert career as a major violin talent in the 1930s, having been appointed as concertmaster of the Vienna Symphony. In 1938, he formed his Quartet with Otto Strasser, violin; Ernst Morawec, viola; and Richard Krotschak, cello. The ensemble endured until 1951, after which Schneiderhahn resumed his solo career.
The Haydn “Emperor” Quartet was recorded for Reichssender in Vienna 15 April 1944. The lean athletic style of performance completely infuses this reading with a deft Viennese spirit. Particularly arresting, Morawec’s viola tone in the Menuetto movement captures the rustic vitality of the music, in concert with Schneiderhahn’s often concertante part. The famous “Austrian National Anthem” tune of the Poco Adagio. Cantabile movement may have had even more resonance given the political tenor of the times of the inscription. The slashing opening to the Finale. Presto sets a tone of inflamed agitation on a virtuoso level in all parts.
The Brahms 1873 C Minor Quartet thrusts itself upon us, Allegro, the performance from 4 October 1944. Richard Krotschak’s deeply resonant cello proves the vital factor here. The prevalence of a “symphonic” texture dominates the tautly nervous aesthetic of this work, especially given the tonic key’s significance for both Brahms and his idol Beethoven. The Schneiderhahn group drives this music in volatile eighth notes hard, and even the relative serenity of the secondary theme in E-flat Major does little to console us. The coda persists in its relentless intensity, and the soft last chord in C Major offers little by way of resolution.
The Romanze in A-flat Major has all four parts moving together in melancholy song. If a rustic atmosphere exists, it becomes a tragic lament in the middle section. The affect seems close to the third movement of the F Major Symphony. The dry, rather austere sound of the Schneiderhahn Quartet deliberately eschews the over-use of vibrato, and the sound conveys an intimate anguish. Brahms extends his dark musing into the Allegretto, a movement that wavers between two gloomy keys, C Minor and F Minor. The cello’s deep tones, often in syncopated figures, add to feeling of a martial intermezzo on its way to some tragic revelation. Schneiderhahn and viola Morawec converse eloquently in this uneasy moment of emotional transition. The final Allegro aligns itself with the first movement’s vehement energy, here in athletic polyphony. First violin and cello operate in hyper-drive, the motion furious and frenetic, with a moment of repose once more offered in E-flat Major. Despite the severe and somber color of the movement, Brahms aims to conclude in C Major, the optimistic ending of the composer’s venerated Beethoven Fifth. The Schneiderhahn ensemble pushes the music to its glowing coda whose severity of style had never really abated.
Schumann’s 1842 Third Quartet gestated in a matter of a few days, the composer’s having studied long and hard the examples of his idols Haydn and late Beethoven. The Haydn influence makes itself felt in the sighing falling fifth motif at the outset of the Andante espessivo. The dreamy atmosphere exploits the colloquy in sonata-form, Schneiderhahn and Krotschak in ardent, sweet dialogue (rec. 31 October 1944). The first half of the soft melody interests Schuman for motivic development. Marked Assai agitato, the second movement consists of a theme and five variations. Rather dark colors infiltrate the colloquy of Schneiderhahn and Krotschek, at least until Variation 4, a melodic canon that involves Schneiderhahn and violist Moraweg. Some turbulence ensues in Variation 5, but the coda returns to a serene mood in major.
It seems Schubert’s influence permeates the expansive Adagio molto, a good example of the Schneiderhahn Quartet’s unity of affecting tone. The rhapsodic mood suffers some storms and stresses that move to a kind of march, which the anguished main theme tries to offset with a lyrical hymn in the first violin over a plucked accompaniment. For his Finale: Allegro molto vivace, Schumann resorts to his characteristic, unbuttoned elan, an opportunity for the Schneiderhahn group to realize a fervent rondo in abridged sonata-form, a la Haydn. More than once, the vitality of the music adumbrates Smetana and Dvorak. The sequences assume the form and drone that we know from Schumann’s C Major Symphony and his Overture, Scherzo and Finale. Commentator Melvin Berger once characterized this movement – punning on the Wagner epithet for the Beethoven Seventh – as “the apotheosis of the rondo form.” A most happy realization of this fine chamber opus from Schumann, I must say, and beautifully restored.
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