Zemlinsky String Quartets 3 & 4

"I can't wait to hear what the Artis will make of this work" wrote Gramophone's Michael Oliver about Zemlinsky's Fourth String Quartet. Here it is, coupled with the Third Quartet and the Quartet, Op. 6 by Zemlinsky's pupil Johanna Müller-Hermann: a world première recording. Praise for the Artis Quartett's recording of the First two String Quartets was unanimous. BBC Music Magazine, selecting it as the Chamber Music Recording of the month wrote: "it would be difficult to imagine a more convincing performance."


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The second instalment of the Artis Quartet’s survey of the four Zemlinsky quartets was completed with this volume back in 1998. They also took the opportunity to include the Op.6 quartet of Johanna Müller-Hermann, which makes a fine and appealing pendant. 
The Fourth quartet functions as a memorial to Alban Berg, who had died in December 1935. It is, in effect, a six movement suite, emulating Berg’s own schema for his Lyric Suite, which had been dedicated to Zemlinsky. The quiet chorale opening prepares one for the mourning element that runs throughout. Here the Burleske is not an occasion for parody and in the Adagietto we find internal references to Parsifal. And the ghostly pizzicati that fleck the theme and variations evoke the shadow side of a work that is profoundly human in spirit and that, in the finale, finally seems to give way to a quick and terse recognition of the inevitability of endings of all kinds.
Johanna Müller-Hermann, born Johanna von Hermann, daughter of a civil servant, probably consulted Zemlinsky for advice on quartet writing. Her quartet was certainly dedicated to him ‘in gratitude’. It’s an impressively fluent and lyric work, memorably atmospheric in places, and fully deserving of this outstanding recording. It is also ingeniously laid out, mellifluously warm, and full of a real gift for expression. The obvious influence is Zemlinsky himself, but perhaps also Reger.
As such it’s more than a mere footnote in Zemlinsky studies, and ends this two disc survey of the four quartets aptly. The Artis fully deserve a high place in the quartet discography.

Jonathan Woolf, Musicweb-international.com

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