KREISLER: String Quartet in A Minor; ZIMBALIST: String Quartet in E Minor; YSAYE: Harmonies du soir, Op. 31 – Fine Arts Quartet/ Philharmonic Orch. of Europe/ Otis Kloeber – Naxo

by | Feb 14, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

KREISLER: String Quartet in A Minor; ZIMBALIST: String Quartet in E Minor; YSAYE: Harmonies du soir, Op. 31 – Fine Arts Quartet/ Philharmonic Orch. of Europe/ Otis Kloeber – Naxos 8.572559, 71:36 ****:
As soon as cellist Wolfgang Laufer makes his first entry into the A Minor Quartet (1919) of Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), we realize that the beloved Viennese master violinist possessed a decided melodic gift, rife with “orientalisms” and shifts into modal harmony.
The first violin part, here realized by Ralph Evans, enjoys a strong concertante presence, the texture’s often approximating a concertino status.  When the cello joins the violin in the first movement: Fantasia duet, we can almost hear Kreisler and Casals in the Brahms Double Concerto. The Scherzo chimes in spiccato figures a step away from Tambourin Chinois. The phrase endings virtually melt into Viennese schlag, the viola (Nicolo Eugelmi) plying his own version of an Eastern chant over a drone bass. The unassuming Romanze: Allegretto conveys an easy sentimentality, rather a Hollywood sweetness appropriate for a Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald lyric. The last movement, Retrospection (Rueckblick) canters rather gaily in rustic syncopations, reminiscent of Brahms when cavorting in a gypsy mode. The Fine Arts players indulge in rubato and generous old-world slides Kreisler likely assumed would be a matter of course.
Efrem Zimbalist (1890-1985) could claim to be among the foremost and most intellectual of the Russian school of virtuoso who tutored with Leopold Auer. A fairly prolific composer, Zimbalist wrote the String Quartet in 1931, revising it in 1959, the edition favored by the Fine Arts Quartet for this World Premier recording (27-30 April 2010 in Wittem Monastery, The Netherlands). A distinct Russian melancholy begins the first movement Moderato, with strong writing for the first violin and responsive cello and viola. If this music has any direct precursor, he lies somewhere between Borodin and Tchaikovsky. Rather luxurious in scope, the writing may exceed what the melodic materials will support, but the suggestions of oriental languor, exotic effects, and modal harmonies move us in worlds redolent of veils and hookahs. The structural closure at the recapitulation comes clearly demarcated, so classical is Zimbalist’s sense of sonata form.
The second movement, Con brio, offers us an immediately engaging scherzo in diverse, metrically intricate colors, the sonority asking rather rasping attacks from the players. The counter theme purrs, meek and mild. A big breath just before the da capo, rife with strummed effects and syncopations, colored perhaps by the quartets of Ravel and Debussy. The Andante con moto provides the moody slow movement, allowing the second violin (Efim Boico) some spotlight. Borodin and Zimbalist’s admired Glazunov make their melodic influence felt. The latter portion of the movement elicits a lullaby quality, tinged by some counterpoint. The interweaving violins over a rustling bass more than invoke the Borodin Nocturne as its example. The last movement, Allegro di molto, scurries in a Mendelssohn or Dvorak manner, a kind of whirling perpetuum mobile. Yet the tempo slows down for a poignant series of chorale harmonies just before the final thrust of the conclusion.
The other world premier recording comes in the form of the 1924 Harmonies du soir of Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931), arguably Belgium’s most illustrious violinist-composer.  Although Ysaye never studied formal composition, he knew the Romantic tradition via Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski. The 1925 Harmonies du soir, with its veneration of Liszt, offers a chromatic series of textures for string quartet and orchestra, not quite a concerto grosso, not quite Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht, but redolent of both. The extensive series of passionate gestures without tonic resolution clearly takes its cue from Tristan, but the chamber music form and the first violin’s various forays align the work with Chausson’s equally febrile Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. A glorious C Major sunrise emerges from the nocturnal labyrinth, dreamy and mysterious, perhaps the lonely beach after Joan Crawford has disappeared into the waves, leaving a forlorn John Garfield.
The accompanying booklet features a priceless photograph of Kreisler and Zimbalist after they had performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante under Damrosch in 1915.
—Gary Lemco

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