Wellesz: String Quartets No 3, 4 & 6 / Artis Quartet

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Utterly convincing performances in resinous sound.

The polarities of the life of the composer Egon Wellesz are to be found in Vienna and in Oxford. That there are these polarities is down to the rise of Nazism. The Third and Fourth quartets are products of the Vienna years. The Sixth belongs to Oxford written after he had spent almost a decade in that city.

Wellesz dallies with 12-note technique but despite having studied with Schoenberg his musical expression is much freer than superficial assumptions might indicate.

The Third Quartet bustles with ideas and styles. The second movement looks to the airy blossom-laden sweetness of the Ravel quartet where the first is more densely intense and with a much wider embrace of atonality. The Sehr gedent is openly lyrical - heavy with a probing and slightly tense cantilena. A chuckling and largely unclouded Anmutig bewegt concludes proceedings with some of the will-o’-the-wisp caprice of the much later Bliss Violin Concerto.

The Fourth Quartet was premiered by the Kolisch in London in 1922. Here incursions from France and Hungary are absent. Instead the work is more completely rooted in the Second Viennese school. The fourth of the five movements is spiky and excitingly guttural.

These are utterly convincing performances in resinous sound. Only those averse to the occasional intake of the players' breath will find anything to grumble about.

The Sixth Quartet was premiered at the Library of Congress by the Loewenguth Quartet on 12 November 1948. It is a concentrated four movement work - the shortest of the three here. The third movement is an affecting rocking-lapping Andante pressed forward with considerable power.

There are nine Wellesz symphonies all tackled by CPO and there are nine string quartets. The big Third Quartet dates from the dying throes of the Great War.

This disc offers three of the nine quartets. I hope that the Arttis and Nimbus will record the rest and will complete the Karl Weigl quartets begun with numbers 1 and 5 on NI 5646. After all they have recorded all four Zemlinskys across NI5563 and NI5604.

The excellent notes for this issue are by Calum Macdonald with assistance from Hannes Heher who also prepared this edition of the Third Quartet.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: NI5821

  • UPC: 710357582127

  • Label: Nimbus

  • Composer: Egon Wellesz

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Artis String Quartet