The Strad issue
Immaculate performances of neglected Russian music for string quartet
Zemlinsky Quartet, Christoph Ess (horn)
It was with his five string quartets that the young Glazunov first drew attention to himself, and had they carried the name of Borodin, they would surely have become part of the standard repertoire. The Third is a particularly happy and outgoing score, with the lyric first movement and yearning second acting as a perfect foil to the mercurial scherzo and vivacious Slavonic finale. Less obvious in its attractions, the Fourth wears well on repeated hearing with its ravishing slow movement’s main theme and furiously busy scherzo.
The Czech-based Zemlinsky is one of the most technically immaculate younger quartets on the international circuit, and the internal balance the players achieve surpasses any of the other available recorded versions of these quartets. They know just how fast they can take the scherzos without sounding rushed, and keep articulation and intonation unfailingly accurate. The wealth of dynamic indications are well observed with just a few subtle performance additions.
They are joined by the much admired principal horn of the Bamberg Symphony, Christoph Ess in the short Idyll. Written when Glazunov was just 19, it shows the composer’s imaginative approach to this unusual blending of instruments. The recording quality complements the quartet’s crystalline playing, but gives rather too much weight to the horn.