Intimate Voices EMERSON STRING QUARTET

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EMERSON STRING QUARTET
Intimate Voices

GRIEG: Streichquartett
String Quartet op. 27
NIELSEN: An der Bahre eines
jungen Künstlers · At the bier
of a young Artist
SIBELIUS: Streichquartett
String Quartet op. 56
»Voces Intimae«
Int. Release 15 Feb. 2006
1 CD / Download
CD DDD 0289 477 5960 7 GH
America's premier string quartet takes on masterworks of Scandinavian repertoire


Track List

Edvard Grieg (1843 - 1907)
String Quartet in G minor, Op.27

Carl Nielsen (1865 - 1931)
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957)
String Quartet in D minor, Op.56 "Voces intimae"

Emerson String Quartet

Total Playing Time 1:03:44

. . . there are so many striking ideas, powerfully developed. And when you have an intelligent, technically almost superhuman ensemble like the Emerson Quartet, playing with obvious feeling for the music, reservations about quartet-style fly out of the window . . . It's a compelling performance with plenty to say about the music, right from the seemingly austere opening solos. It's good to hear the Emersons finding a good deal more than lyrical charm in the Grieg Quartet . . . the playing is . . . richly enjoyable from every angle . . . it's good to hear this music taken so seriously, and so shaped so powerfully. The recordings are as fine as this truly outstanding playing deserves.

. . . the technically impeccable Emersons have made the best impression with music from the century just past, although they have left fingerprints, not without success, in everything from Bach's "Art of Fugue" onward . . . The quartet's driven musical personality generates "Sturm und Drang" . . . The engineering is as efficient as the musicianship.

The Emerson String Quartet brings its typical laserlike focus and impeccable technical
polish to the music, underscoring the music¿s surging romanticism but retaining a cleareyed spiritualism and striking balance of individual voices.

The Emerson String Quartet plays here with its usual sleek intensity and deeply cultured touch.

. . . it's a magnificent performance . . .

I doubt whether a quartet has ever played the Grieg with such seamless tonal integration, corporate blend and unanimity of attack and phrasing as the Emerson does here. The passing awkwardnesses of Grieg¿s writing (both individually and collectively) are surmounted with a mellifluous ease to leave the listener weak with admiration. Listening to the Emerson in full flow one might be forgiven for thinking that Grieg found the string quartet medium as effortlessly congenial as did Haydn or Dvorák. And yet by paying Grieg the compliment of allowing his music to flow unimpeded by dramatic interpretative intervention . . . the work¿s structural infelicities are revealed for all to hear. No less stunning is the Emerson¿s immaculate traversal of Sibelius¿s `Voces intimae¿ Quartet . . . Nielsen¿s ¿At the Bier of a Young Artist¿, a bracing four-minuter in which Grieg meets Schubert¿s `Death and the Maiden¿ head on, inspires the Emerson at last to throw caution to the wind.

The G minor Quartet is probably the toughest, most draining work in the Grieg canon, a work that offers a special sense of desperation in the way it seems to rail against the physical limitations of the medium. Its fury is especially evident in this stunning new performance from the Emerson Quartet. It's a slashing modernist account . . . the Emersons cut through the surface sentiment to reveal the raw emotions motivating the music . . . This feverish score responds well to their relentless approach . . . no other recording I know gives the Quartet quite so much emotional and intellectual stature.

The G minor Quartet is probably the toughest, most draining work in the Grieg canon, a work that . . . offers a special sense of desperation in the way it seems to rail against the physical limitations of the medium. Its fury is especially evident in this stunning new performance from the Emerson Quartet. It¿s a slashing modernist account, marked by quickish tempos, an edging sound, biting attacks, resilient rhythms, and severe motivic profile; and by playing up the grating harmonies, obsessive gestures, and long arches of increasing drama, the Emersons cut through surface sentiment to reveal the raw emotions motivating the music . . . this feverish score responds well to their relentless approach -- especially given the group¿s technical flair and their customary excellence . . . Certainly, no other recording I know gives the Quartet quite so much emotional and intellectual stature . . . this well-engineered disc will reward your attention.

Die Geschmeidigkeit der Artikulation bekommt der Komposition bestens.

Technische Perfektion und kongenialer Zusammenklang gehören zum Emerson String Quartet wie Anzüge, Stühle und Notenblätter. Das Weltklasseensemble kann sich deshalb ganz auf Interpretationsfragen konzentrieren, um sie nicht parzelliert, sondern mit Blick auf die gesamte Partitur zu lösen. Das weitsichtige Vorgehen zeitigt beispiellose Ergebnisse, wie dieser Ausflug nach Skandinavien einmal mehr beweist. Der Titel "Voces Intimae -- Innere Stimmen", mit dem Sibelius vor fast 100 Jahren drei Akkorde seines d-Moll-Quartetts zu beschreiben versuchte, passt nun auch für Griegs liebeskranke g-Moll-Variante und Nielsens Andante "An der Bahre eines Künstlers". In unendlichem Nuancen- und Farbenreichtum erzählen diese Stimmen, dass ein Streichquartett auch Tagebuch und Abbild einer Seelenlandschaft sein kann.

Die Stärken des Ensembles kommen auch in diesem Programm einmal mehr zum Tragen: Es sind durchweg gedankentiefe Interpretationen, in denen der Nachzeichnung der Struktur eine wichtigere Rolle zukommt als dem Verbreiten einer wie auch immer gearteten Atmosphäre. Das zeitigt . . . positive Resultate . . . Der typische schlanke, analytische Emerson-Klang sorgt, bei gleichzeitigem Reichtum an fein austarierten Klangfarben, auch bei Sibelius für ein überzeugendes Gesamtbild ¿ wobei es vor allem die schnellen Sätze sind, in denen das Ensemble zu punkten weiß.

Gerade das Eigensinnige fordert das amerikanische Spitzenensemble zu resolutem Eingreifen heraus, beim grimmig Tänzerischen von Grieg, bei der düsteren Innerlichkeit von Sibelius (dessen d-Moll-Quartett kaum zufällig "Voces intimae" heisst). Mit derselben Unbedingtheit, mit dem sich die Emersons . . . bisher dem klassischen Repertoire von Haydn bis Schostakowitsch zuwandten, treten sie auch an diese fordernden Aufgaben.

Das Emerson String Quartet macht sich den bekenntnishaften Tonfall der hochromantischen Partitur nicht nur zu eigen, sondern unterstreicht ihn mit einer expressiven, fülligen . . . Klanggebung . . . dass die Musik etwas Wichtiges sagen will, ist nicht zu überhören ¿ weil die erdige Bedeutungsschwere des finnischen Eigenbrötlers hier mit düsterer Eindringlichkeit in die Saiten getrieben wird. Eine Aufnahme, die den beiden skandinavischen Komponisten in die Seele schaut . . .

. . . on trouvera . . . de l'intérêt et d'excellentes idées interprétatives.

La qualité d'ensemble à laquelle sont arrivés les membres du Quatuor Emerson est tout bonnement sidérante. Une telle harmonie entre les quatre partenaires, une telle fusion sonore, une telle maîtrise commune d'archet, une telle entente, relèvent du prodige. Cette perfection quasi inhumaine est presque intimidante. Et quel son ! Quelle plénitude ! Ainsi, lorsqu'un tel ensemble rencontre une oeuvre qui semble écrite pour lui, cela donne bien évidemment la version de référence de ce Quatuor op. 27 de Grieg. La conception harmonique et concertante de l'oeuvre sied parfaitement au jeu des Emerson, et ils peuvent faire montre de toute la puissance de leur sonorité pleine et de leur virtuosité individuelle et d'ensemble. Leur ton symphonique semble idéal pour ces contrastes de masses sonores et d'intensités qui régissent l'oeuvre. Somptueux d'un bout à l'autre, les Emerson apparaissent sans limite et nous entraînent dans un voyage durant lequel on en oublie la formation. Leur précision implacable, la fluidité de leur discours, la vitalité qui s'en dégage, l'engagement physique qu'ils nous transmettent; tout concourt à nous laisser porter, à nous laisser submerger par ce flot musical narratif qu'ils réussissent à porter au rang de chef-d'oeuvre.

La expresividad del Cuarteto Emerson, su infatigable disciplina, esa sonoridad redonda, preciosa (el primer violín es un Stradivarius conocido como Duque de Alba), la singular potencia de cada pupitre, permite que recomendemos este disco como la referencia de cada una de las tres piezas.


NOTHERN VOICES


During its long history, the genre of the string quartet seems to have had an infinite capacity to renew itself, emerging from the private music room into the public concert hall, changing in form, language and texture with the onset of Romanticism and of successive modernist movements, and embracing nationalism and autobiography alike. Through all this, it has challenged composers, not simply to write effectively for the four instruments, but to express their musical personalities fully through the quartet medium. Two great Nordic composers of successive generations, the Norwegian Edvard Grieg and the Finn Jean Sibelius, each took up that challenge once only, but in each case triumphantly.

Grieg, an accomplished pianist but no string player, in fact composed an early string quartet, now lost, as a student at the Leipzig Conservatory; and he left a quartet unfinished at his death. But his only complete mature quartet was the one in G minor which he wrote between the summer of 1877 and February 1878, mostly during a stay in the mountainous Hardanger country on the west coast of Norway. Although a success with the audience at its first performance, in Cologne in October 1878, it soon came under critical fire for its textures, essentially harmonic rather than contrapuntal and with a good deal of multiple-stopping for all the instruments, and for the abruptness of its transitions. But both of these were part of Grieg's conception. He wrote to a friend that in the Quartet he had aimed at "breadth, flight of imagination, and above all sonority".

Much later in his life, Grieg recalled that in the Quartet he had "had a big spiritual battle to fight," and there is some evidence that this reflected difficulties between himself and his wife, the singer Nina Hagerup, and her rumored affair with his elder brother John. Significantly, he chose to base the work on a motto theme adapted from his own setting of Ibsen's poem "Spillemaend" ("Fiddlers"), in which a minstrel separated from his beloved obsessively pursues a water-sprite in the hope of a magic song that will bring her back, only to find that she has become his brother's bride. The motto (which must surely have suggested the very similar motto of Debussy's Quartet, in the same key) is first heard in a strong chordal setting in the introduction to the first movement; it returns in the main Allegro in several guises, notably as the second subject, in a tender major-key version which is closer to the original song melody.

The first three notes of the motto, with a sharpened leading-note, form the "Grieg motif" familiar, for example, from the opening of his Piano Concerto: this figure appears in the minor-key Allegro agitato passages of the B flat major Romanze and in the outer sections of the Intermezzo, which are in the rhythm of a Czech furiant. The full motto returns in the short slow introduction to the saltarello finale, in a new transformation in the central major-key episode, and finally in a sonorous major-key version in the coda which completes Grieg's cyclic design.

Sibelius, a talented violinist in his youth, wrote a great deal of chamber music as a student, including three complete string quartets and many separate quartet movements. But the one substantial chamber work of his maturity is the Quartet in D minor, composed in the winter of 1908/9, mostly during an extended conducting tour of Europe, and first performed in Berlin in January 1910. The work thus falls between the composer's Third and Fourth Symphonies, and it both echoes some of the patterns of string writing of the Third and anticipates the leanness of texture of the Fourth. Its Latin title of "Intimate Voices" suggests a particular concern with the medium of chamber as opposed to orchestral music; but the fact that Sibelius pencilled the words on his manuscript against the three hushed, out-of-key chords that mysteriously interrupt the flow of the slow movement hints that they may also have had an extra-musical significance, possibly related to a heightened sense of mortality following a series of operations for throat cancer.

The Quartet has an unusual five-movement design, which combines a symmetrical outline with Sibelius's characteristic purposeful movement from one point to another. The moderately paced first movement, perhapssuggestive of a wintry northern landscape, leads directly into the second, an A major scherzo in a fleet-footed 2/4 time with an emphatic central climax; and the two movements are also linkedthematically,the two main motifs of the scherzo both being derived from ideas in the first movement. The heart of the work is the central slow movement, a deeply felt F major Adagio which moves from its early uncertainty and intensity to a calm conclusion. It is followed by a second scherzo, in triple time, in which the stamping and surging opening soon yields to a more graceful second idea. And the finale is almost two movements in one (like the corresponding movement of the Third Symphony), so completely do its opening ideas disappear in the face of the wild, accelerating toccata with which it ends.

Sibelius's Danish contemporary Carl Nielsen, who earned his living as an orchestral violinist for some years, published four string quartets in the early part of his career (the third of them dedicated to Grieg), but did not return to the medium after 1906. However, in January 1910 (the month of the first performance of Sibelius's Voces intimae), he composed an Andante lamentoso called "At the bier of a young artist": this is designated for string quintet including double bass, or string orchestra, but as the double bass is used only to reinforce the cello line at the end it can easily be played by a quartet. The piece was written for the funeral of Nielsen's young friend Oluf Hartmann, a painter and the son and grandson of composers; 21 years later, it was played at Nielsen's own funeral in Copenhagen Cathedral. In the dark key of E flat minor, with an initially subdued middle section in D major and a calm major-key ending, it has a poignant intensity quite remarkable for a work of its modest duration.

Anthony Burton



11/2005