ROBERT SCHUMANN: String Quartet No. 3; ALBAN BERG: Lyric Suite; GYORGY KURTAG: Officium Breve – Quartet Gerhard– Harmonia Nova HMN 916108, [Distr. By Harmonia Mundi] 63:11, (10/23/17) ***1/2:
Some emotionally deep music playing exceptionally by this young quartet.
This is a fascinating release and mainly for the concept behind the new label, Harmonia Nova. Harmonia Nova, affiliated with the venerable Harmonia Mundi seeks to find and promote new classical music talent, especially younger promising artists. Certainly if we look at the five releases to date we see this is the case. Whether it is this excellent string quartet, Quartet Gerhard, or the vocalists and pianist featured so far within HMN’s first five releases none of these millennial talents are household names – yet.
That may be the best and certainly a valid reason to check out this assemblage of three emotionally wrought string quartets played so beautifully.
The Schumann third quartet is well known and represents Schumann’s overt paean to his love, Clara, and is filled with the excess and feeling that this somewhat controversial relationship brought to his life.
Berg’s Lyric Suite is also one of the composer’s best known works from a composer whose music crossed the lines between formal serialism and a rather post-Wagnerian chromaticism so fluidly. The quartet’s booklet notes call the Lyric Suite a “dormant opera” and justifiably so. The writing echoes Zemlinsky’s own “Lyric” Symphony somewhat as well as presage Berg’s tragedy Lulu. He wrote the Lyric Suite particularly in the middle of an illicit affair and the score contains many intervallic motifs and snippets of melody that Berg envisioned as ‘messages’ to his lover Hannah.
For me the find on this disc was the strange and cryptic but attractive Officium Breve (in Memorium Andreae Szervanszky). Szervanszky was a fellow Hungarian composer whom Kurtag admired a great deal – along with Anton Webern. The music is written in fifteen short movements – gestures, really – many of which are subtitled in the memory of many musicians, friends and acquaintances of Kurtag; without explanation. This is, at various times, a work of great beauty and occasional unrest but which on the whole unfolds slowly and darkly. The Officium Breve is both the shortest work in this set but also the most recent, composed in 1988. I have certainly heard of Kurtag before but I believe this is my first exposure to his music. I would love to hear more.
There are many solid recordings of both the Schumann as well as the Berg to hear so I fear that many listeners would shun this recording simply because of not knowing this Quartet Gerhard. Do not let the youthful anonymity dissuade you though. They are very talented performers with an intriguing sense of programming and the disc itself (the whole Harmonia Nova series) is economically priced and well worth your attention. Besides, any group who names their quartet after the amazingly eclectic and not well-enough known Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard has my immediate respect!