Monday, November 25, 2013

Record of the Week

I know I should be writing about Benjamin Britten as it is his 100th anniversary and all. But I always hate doing what I am supposed to do! So I will wait on that until the dust clears. Looking around, though, there sure is a lot of journalism about him this week, especially at the Guardian.

What else is going on in music journalism? Norman Lebrecht has his album of the week up at Sinfini "cutting through classical" Music (I just love quoting their slogan as it so captures their clumsy efforts to be cool). This week is on what looks to be a quite serious album by the Zehetmair Quartet. If you put Beethoven, Bruckner, Hartmann and Holliger all on the same CD you are certainly serious about something. A good review would try to tell us what exactly, along with impressions of the playing and, in the case of unfamiliar music, maybe something about the pieces.

Alas, we are dealing with journalism here, I'm sorry to say. I'm sure Mr. Lebrecht can do much better, but either the editorial policy or the sheer word-count limitation seems to have prevented that. Instead what we get is the usual strained attempt to be hip which seems to consist in writing in such a way as to try to appeal to people who don't know and don't like classical music and who spend most of their time listening to Kanye West. I'll leave you to doing your own Googling, but his latest features him pretending to ride a motorcycle in front of a screen showing landscapes of the Southwest while Kim Kardashian writhes seductively on his gas tank.

Back to the album. It certainly sounds interesting because of the repertoire. We all know the Beethoven, op. 135. Presumably because it was his last quartet, Lebrecht describes it as "unflickering in its glare at approaching death". I'm not sure I could think of a more ludicrously inappropriate description of a piece in which Beethoven goes out of his way to recapture the classical elegance and charm of his predecessors Haydn and Mozart. No glaring in this piece. The idiocy of always writing about a composer's last piece as if it were somehow a confrontation with Death is evident I hope? Composers probably no more know that their last piece is going to be their last piece than most of us know when we have eaten our last piece of toast.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann, who died in 1963, is not well-known outside of Europe where he is admired particularly for his eight symphonies. He did write two string quartets of which the one recorded here is the second, written just at the end of WWII. I did find a recording of the piece on YouTube; the performers are the Pellegrini Quartet. Blogger refuses to embed the clip, but here is the link:

Just listening to a bit of the beginning, I am fascinated. Lebrecht calls the music "intimate and intense" and he is quite right! I look forward to listening to more of Hartmann's music.

How about the Bruckner quartet? Now this is odd: YouTube must hate me today as they also refuse to embed the one and only clip of the Bruckner quartet. Here it is played by the Filarmonica Quartet from Novosibirsk:

Will we have any luck with the Holliger? No, because the Zehetmair Quartet just commissioned it. But here is part of his String Quartet No. 1:

Lebrecht sums up by saying that this is "a bold and intelligent album, played with passion: a signature project." I'm sure it is, though I wonder what a "signature project" is exactly? But let me add that, at $33.69 US at Amazon, this is also a very expensive album though it seems there are two discs.

Let's end with Beethoven's Quartet, op. 135, smiling at Haydn and Mozart and emphatically not glaring at death. Here is the Borodin Quartet:

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