HAYDN: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3 “Emperor;” String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke”; SCHUBERT: String Quartet in A Minor, D. 804 “Rosamunde;” String Quartet in E-flat Major, D. 87 – Quartetto Italiano – CD Ages

by | Dec 6, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3 “Emperor;”
String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2 “The Joke”; SCHUBERT:
String Quartet in A Minor, D. 804 “Rosamunde;” String Quartet in E-flat
Major, D. 87 – Quartetto Italiano

CD Ages 509 003-2  (2 Stereo CDs),  44:44, 54:44 (Distrib. Silver Oak) ****:

First established in 1945 by students of the Siena Accademia Chigiana,
the Quartetto Italiano achieved a synergy of expression marking the
zenith of Italian chamber music ensemble in the 20th century. Critic
Virgil Thomson, writing in 1951,  invoked “perfection” as the only
way to describe their music-making. Their clean, articulate sound, the
directness of their musical line and the incisiveness of their attacks
were to quartet playing what Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli had achieved
for the keyboard – an application of the Neue Sachlichkeit in chamber
music, with only a hint of portamento – an approach Wolfgang
Schneiderhahn and Hans Rosbaud were cultivating in Germany.

The Quartetto Italiano made their inscriptions for the Concert Hall
label in Geneva in July, 1965. From the peasant drone in the first
movement of the Emperor Quartet and in the Menuetto, to its
distinguished, even misterioso, theme and variations in the Poco
Adagio, we are transfixed by the variety of sounds this quartet
ensemble generates. Their sense of inner pulsation, legend has it,
derives from a 1949 Salzburg encounter with “pianist” Wilhelm
Furtwaengler in a run-through of the Brahms F Minor Quintet. The Finale
has an orchestral sonority which quickly adjusts to the concertino
level, a kind of concertante excursion for Paolo Borciani’s solo
violin. Lightness and grace inform the E-flat Quartet, “The “Joke.” The
work provides the perfect foil for this ensemble, who often were wont
to boast, “We argue but we never joke!”  Franco Rossi’s cello part
resonates throughout. The musical quips for which the quartet is known,
its brusque ending, enjoy the musical legerdemain of four polished
veterans.

The raison d’etre for this set is the 1965 version of the Schubert A
Minor Quartet, the second of three inscriptions Quartetto Italiano made
of this striking work, and this reading seems to have found a perfect
balance of formal control and expressive freedom. The opening bars and
its repetition are as tragically mystical as anything in chamber music,
and again, Franco Rossi’s cello grounds the harmonic and vertical
tensions with astonishing force.  The rhythmic give-and-take of
the famed Rosamunde theme-and-variations is worth a musical discourse
unto itself. What makes itself apparent throughout any Quartetto
Italiano reading is the high cantabile and innate songfulness they
elicit from any score. Wonderful weavings from Piero Farulli’s
exquisite viola. The dark kernel that sets the Menuetto in motion might
well have inspired Dvorak’s eerie waltz in his Eighth Symphony.
“Passionate ingenuousness” might prove a fitting epithet for the last
movement, another study in dark, chromatic tensions. The Quartet in
E-flat, the old Op. 125, generates some somber tissue in spite of
Beidermaier, Viennese sensibilities and charm. The little Scherzo does
Mendelssohn one better for skittish elfin writing. The centerpiece
Adagio owes debts to the silences in Beethoven, its having a modal,
hymnal quality. The last movement, an Allegro which Quartetto Italiano
plays like a light-fingered house on fire, sings, plucks, and shimmers
most deftly in fine restored sound.

–Gary Lemco

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