The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: String quartets from the dying days of the Habsburg Empire
Musicians: Artis Quartet Vienna
Composer: Kreisler, Schulhoff, Zemlinsky
Catalogue number: NIMBUS NI 5942

This resourceful programme is a pendant to the Artis Quartet’s exploration of the neglected corners of Viennese quartet writing and to its recordings of the numbered Zemlinsky quartets in particular. There is plenty to enjoy here. Kreisler, taught harmony and counterpoint by Bruckner and composition by Delibes, didn’t just write encores and pseudonymous miniatures, as Robin Stowell’s informative booklet note reminds us. His A minor Quartet is a substantial work, written in 1919 as a kind of nostalgic farewell to the Habsburg Vienna that had been swept away by the First World War. The Artis players race through it, knocking four minutes off the rival Fine Arts Quartet recording on Naxos, but it’s not all about numbers: there’s charm aplenty and a lightness of touch that can still find depth in the slow movement.

Zemlinsky’s early String Quartet in E minor (1893) only received its premiere recording, as part of the Brodsky’s complete cycle on Chandos, a year ago. This new account has plenty of warmth and tonal body, as well as rhythmic vitality. This last quality comes into its own in the Dadaist cameos of Schulhoff’s Five Pieces, played here with wit and insouciance.

The Wyastone Leys recording is sympathetic but the stereo balance sounds too extreme for a natural quartet layout.

Matthew Rye