GRAMOPHONE Magazine Editor's Choice - October 2015.The Artemis Quartet pairs Brahms’ intense first quartet with his lighter-spirited third quartet, both works that the Artemis’ cellist, Eckart Runge, describes as “remarkable and multi-faceted”. He says that “Brahms marries a Romantic spirit with the structure and forms of Classicism. There is an almost symphonic approach in the writing, but at the same time the quartets are imbued with a sense of warmth, immediacy, friendship and love that is interwoven with a more spiritual, timeless beauty”.
Well known for the intensity and profundity of its interpretations, the Quatuor Danel has made a name for itself on the international classical scene (winning such awards as the Diapason d’Or, Choc du Monde de la Musique, and CD of the Month in BBC Music Magazine) in the great cycles that form the basis of the quartet literature, from Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert to Weinberg. Since Russian composers occupy a key position in the Danels’ repertory, it was logical for them to champion the quartets of Shostakovich by recording them complete in 2005. Today Alpha Classics reissues this boxed set, which is among the reference recordings of the composer’s works.
The Mandelring Quartet plays with unflinching resolve, sympathetic expression, incisive attacks, and penetrating tone, which are all necessary in Shostakovich's sardonic and frequently bitter language.
Though he had already produced works he called "diverimenti a Quattro" in his Opus 1 and 2, Haydn only really got serious about the string quartet genre 10 years later with his Opus 9, 17, and 20. The earlier works had been five movement, serenade-like pieces, but starting with Opus 9 the composer favored four-movement, sonata-form works that were lyric, dramatic, cogent, and entertaining and they became the model for all subsequent quartets.
A string quartet was among the very first works that Edvard Grieg presented after completing his studies in 1861, but the Quartet in G minor, Op. 27, was the only such work to be published in his lifetime. In 1878, while composing it, Grieg wrote that ‘it aims at breadth, to soar, and, above all, at vigorous sound’, and the amplitude of the sound is indeed striking: the generous use of double-stops creates an almost orchestral effect, unusual for the genre. This caused some reviewers to criticize the quartet as being unidiomatic, while others, including Liszt, greeted it with enthusiasm. Some thirty years later, when Jean Sibelius composed his D minor quartet Op. 56, he too had previous experience of writing for the medium, but Op. 56 is the only quartet among his mature works. The often used 'nickname' Voces intimae is often taken to refer to the intimate interchange between the four voices in a quartet, but is probably a more specific allusion to a brief passage in the third movement: Sibelius wrote the remark into a score some time after the work had been published.
This venerable recording by the Italian Quartet from 1965 was, for many years, the standard reference copy of both works either individually or as a coupling. One of the considerable virtues of this group of players was that they could always be relied upon to play in tune and to play with musicianship. The competition was not so strong as it is today as many of the alternative groups simply could not deliver accuracy in tuning (or even worse, the notes). This was rarely commented upon in review magazines at the time, a source of complete bemusement for me, but as one who was expected to play in tune I found listening to string chamber music almost beyond bearing for much of the time - except for this group.