A major world-premiere recording of a neglected Soviet composer

Quartet Berlin-Tokyo: Popov, Schulhoff

The Strad Issue: May 2022

Description: A major world-premiere recording of a neglected Soviet composer

Musicians: Quartet Berlin-Tokyo

Works: Schulhoff: Five Pieces for String Quartet. Popov: String Quartet in C minor op.61 ‘Quartet-Symphony’

Catalogue number: QBT COLLECTION QBT 001

Schulhoff’s Five Pieces have inspired a heady variety of interpretations on disc, from the full-toned, gently ironic Bennewitz Quartet (Supraphon), via the impassioned eloquence of the Aviv Quartet (Naxos), to the spiky, deeply unsettling insinuations of an ad hoc ensemble at the 1990 Lockenhaus Festival (Philips). By comparison, the Quartet Berlin-Tokyo, warmly recorded in Berlin’s Gustav-Adolf Church, brings an espressivo intensity to Schulhoff’s restless textural interchanges, most strikingly in the Tango fourth movement, complete with sultry portamentos. The group also captures to the full the wild gyrations of the tarantella finale.

However, the disc’s main point of interest is the world-premiere recording of Gavriil Popov’s four-movement ‘Quartet-Symphony’, premiered in 1951 and nearly an hour long. The 25-minute opening Allegro eroico e molto risoluto juxtaposes music of Shostakovich-like rhythmic intensity with lyrical secondary material. Hints of pedal-pointed orientalisms underpin the light-as-air scherzo, while the finale sidesteps generic Soviet musical gestures to create a semantically elusive sound world. Little wonder Popov’s First Symphony had been banned by the authorities in the mid-1930s for failing to fly the flag! The Quartet Berlin-Tokyo throws itself into the fray, palpably relishing Popov’s creative volatility.