The Strad Issue: January 2013
Description: Authentically Viennese interpretations from sensitive performers
Musicians: Escher Quartet
Composer: Zemlinsky

As the often neglected fulcrum around whom so many of the great early 20th-century Viennese composers revolved, Alexander Zemlinsky still needs his advocates, but attitudes seem to be warming. This disc, the first of a promised pair (strange, though, to launch ‘Volume 1’ with the later works), follows a well-received cycle from the Zemlinsky Quartet (Praga Digitals vol.2, reviewed December 2011). If that earlier traversal played to its executants’ Central European strengths, these performances from the US-based Escher Quartet sound no less authentically Viennese in the players’ deep sympathy with the music’s typical juxtaposition of wit and pathos.

It’s not the easiest music to take in at a first hearing, such is its emotional range, but the Escher musicians prove to be exemplary guides, with playing that is unimpeachable in its technical accomplishment, sense of ensemble and rhythmical sharpness. A highlight is the second-movement variations of no.3, which are each treated with such care and delineation of character that the music making compels the ear.

No.4, along with Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet from the same year (1936), arguably marking the end of an unbroken line of Viennese quartet-writing stretching back to Haydn, was Zemlinsky’s tribute to Berg. The Escher players tackle its six varied movements with both sensitivity and communicative zeal. Subtly drawn accounts of two movements from an unfinished work of 1927 complete a welcome and beautifully recorded disc.

Matthew Rye