Ullmann, Krasa, Schulhoff, Haas - String Quartets
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Cat No: SU42652
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 12th April 2019
WorksString Quartet no.2, op.7 'From the Monkey Mountains'
Theme and Variations
Pieces (5) for string quartet
String Quartet no.3, op.46
Pavel Rehberger (percussion)
In October 1944, Haas, Ullmann and Krása were among the thousands of Theresienstadt prisoners transported to Auschwitz, where they would be murdered in the gas chambers.
The Bennewitz Quartet launched their international career following their victories at the prestigious competition in Osaka (2005) and the Prémio Paolo Borciani in Italy (2008). Ever since they have regularly performed at the world’s most prominent venues (Wigmore Hall in London, Musikverein in Vienna, Konzerthaus in Berlin, Théâtre des Champs- Elysées in Paris, concert halls in New York, Seoul, etc.) and festivals (Salzburger Festspiele, Lucerne Festival, Rheingau Musik Festival, etc.).
“The Bennewitz Quartet is downright wonderful, with a perfect balance of warmth and objective clarity” – Gramophone
- Jakub Fišer: first violin,
- Štěpán Ježek: second violin
- Jiří Pinkas: viola,
- Štěpán Doležal: cello
Pavel Rehberger (guest): percussion
1Ullmann - String Quartet no.3, op.46 - I. Allegro moderato
2Ullmann - String Quartet no.3, op.46 - II. Presto
3Ullmann - String Quartet no.3, op.46 - III. Largo
4Ullmann - String Quartet no.3, op.46 - IV. Allegro vivace e ritmico
5Krasa - Theme and Variations for String Quartet
6Schulhoff - Five Pieces for String Quartet - I. Alla Valse viennese
7Schulhoff - Five Pieces for String Quartet - II. Alla Serenata
8Schulhoff - Five Pieces for String Quartet - III. Alla Czeca
9Schulhoff - Five Pieces for String Quartet - IV. Alla Tango milonga
10Schulhoff - Five Pieces for String Quartet - V. Alla Tarantella
11Haas - String Quartet no.2, op.7 - I. Landscape. Andante
12Haas - String Quartet no.2, op.7 - II. Coach, Coachman and Horse. Andante
13Haas - String Quartet no.2, op.7 - III. The Moon and I. Largo e misterioso
14Haas - String Quartet no.2, op.7 - IV. Wild Night. Vivace e con fuoco
Thanks to the efforts of a number of musicians, musicologists and record companies over the past few decades, their music is gaining familiarity with domestic and international audiences, and this new disc from the Bennewitz Quartet is sure to raise their profile still further. It opens with Viktor Ullmann’s gloriously compact String Quartet no.3, composed at Theresienstadt in January 1943. Cast in a single movement in four distinct (and separately tracked) sections, it shows the influence of Ullmann’s mentor Schoenberg in its absorption of expressionist musical language. But it is the distinctiveness of each section, even within a brief timeframe (the longest is not much more than four minutes), that is most striking: the light spikiness of the scherzo section, the haunting lines of the Largo, the energy and eventual jubilation of the concluding Allegro vivace, but perhaps most of all the radiant tenderness of the opening Allegro moderato. It beggars belief that this music was composed in such harrowing circumstances, and the Bennewitz Quartet do it proud, in a performance of supreme technical artistry that never gets in the way of the music’s abundant character.
Hans Krása is best remembered today for his Dostoevsky-based opera Verlobung im Traum (1933). His Theme and Variations for String Quartet was composed in 1935/36, but was not premiered until 20 May 1944 in Theresienstadt. It is a wide-ranging work that starts in a mood of rapt innocence but soon takes on darker and even sardonic colourings, with a deft feeling for the timbral possibilities of the string quartet genre. Once again, the Bennewitz Quartet turn in a superb performance of a miniature masterpiece, the only performance currently in the catalogue.
Schulhoff’s Five Pieces for String Quartet is one of the best-known works on the disc, its movements based on popular dance forms, four of which made a huge impression at the Salzburg ISCM Festival in 1924. Dedicated to Darius Milhaud, it is a wry celebration of contemporary dance forms, including a Viennese waltz, a Mediterranean-infused Serenade, a lively Czech dance, a sensually inflected Tango milonga, and a bracing concluding Tarantella. This is certainly one of the best performances now on disc, lively, characterful, brilliantly rhythmic and immaculately toned, with a real vibrancy throughout. The ironic twists and turn are unerringly captured without loss of good humour.
Finally there is Haas’s Second String Quartet (1925), subtitled ‘From the Monkey Mountains’, which at one level is a series of four tone pictures inspired by the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands. This is music of utter genius, including a mysterious opening Landscape (complete with birdsong), a tipsy ride with a Coach, Coachman and Horse, a hauntingly dreamy The Moon and I, and an at times rowdy concluding Wild Night, complete with percussion (played here by Pavel Rehberger). This is another benchmark recording in a highly competitive field. In the pacey performance of the closing movement, the percussion here provides rhythmic support, reinforcing the rhythmic character of the quartet’s music rather than dominating proceedings, and is much the better for it.
Recording quality from Supraphon and documentation are all first-class, and as a musical tribute to a senselessly lost generation of Czech composers this can hardly be bettered. With top-quality playing throughout, even those with most of these works already in their collections will want to snap this disc up. They will find it endlessly rewarding.
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