Composers: Webern, Schoenberg and Zemlinsky
Performers: Quatuor Arod, Elsa Dreisig s
Catalogue Number: ERATO 9029542552

French string quartet Quatuor Arod follows its acclaimed first album of Mendelssohn with a foray into fin de siècle Vienna, performing three closely interconnected works. Schoenberg was a student of Zemlinsky’s who fell in love with and married his teacher’s sister Mathilde; Webern later studied with Schoenberg. This intimate network of connections was profoundly shaken when a young artist friend of the Schoenbergs committed suicide in 1908 after a tragic affair with Mathilde, who died of cancer 15 years later.

These works balance faithfulness towards tradition against the desire for emancipation, of which Mathilde’s life was an involuntary embodiment. Webern’s lush, stately Langsamer Satz (1905) opens, a single movement work written after a year studying with Schoenberg. Schoenberg’s own String Quartet No 2 follows, a stunning work that breaks with tradition by including a soprano part in the third and fourth movements while ascending to worlds of unknown tonality. Elsa Dreisig is sensational, her glacial voice interweaving with the quartet in a tremendous match of timbres.

Finally, Zemlinsky’s monumental five-movement String Quartet No 2: a restless, cyclic work, forward-looking but beautifully lyrical and written with Schoenberg’s capabilities as a cellist in mind. These are transcendent works performed with authority, precision and great feeling; the resonant, spatially sensitive recording superbly balanced.

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