Friday, October 16, 2009

Sunday Classics preview (1): No need to wait till Sunday to hear our mystery string quartet


The Serenade from Op 3, No. 5, the best-known piece by Haydn which Haydn (probably) didn't write, gets a sweetheart of a performance from our mystery quartet.

by Ken

As you know if you were with us last week, among the works by Antonin Dvořák we're going to be hearing in this week's Sunday Classics offering we have the first two movements of the glorious American String Quartet, played by a quartet I said may be, all-around, "the greatest string quartet I've heard."

This is a large claim, considering how many quartets who've made records I love. So I thought it would be fun to give you a chance to hear more of these guys. (There's a hint! Yes, they're all guys. Oh wait -- I think already referred to them last week as "these fellows." So not a new hint, just an old one repeated.) What we have tonight is two movements by Haydn, or at least one movement by Haydn and one that was once attributed to him but is now generally thought not to be.

First we have the opening movement of the Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33, No. 2, marked Allegro moderato. In it we hear a textbook lesson -- or what would be a textbook lesson if such a thing could be taught -- in how to bring a melodic line to completely realized life. We're dealing here with a first violinist with an out-of-this-world ear and musical imagination combined with a technique that allows him to phrase with a combination of boldness and precision, swagger and grace, elegance and voluptuousness you just don't hear everyday. (I'm not sure I've heard it ever.) And the supporting players, play their parts with every bit as much concentration and tonal luster, at the same time demonstrating an ensemble sense that should be a model for all quartets.

Next we hear the most famous Haydn quartet movement that Haydn (probably) didn't write, from the phantom Op. 3 set, for which no materials in the composer's hand have been found. It's assumed to have been published under his name by an unscrupulous publisher simply for what was already, even at that early date, the commercial value of Haydn's name. (Can you believe a publisher could have been so unscrupulous? Actually, it's probably not so much that publishers have acquired so many more scruples as that copyright and other laws have become international and enforceable.)

We hear the much-loved second movement, the Serenade (marked Andante cantabile) of Op. 3, No. 5 -- a honey of a piece no matter who wrote it. (The most common attribution is to the monk Roman Hofstetter, but there's really no more evidenced for his authorship than there is for Haydn's.) Again we hear that meltingly wonderful first violinist, and the contribution of his colleagues, playing mostly in pizzicato, is if anything even more remarkable. They seem to be saying that there are no small parts, only small players.

We're going to be hearing from our mystery quartet again in tomorrow's late-night slot, and while this isn't a contest as such, if you want to identify the group, feel free.


Here is the current list.

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At 11:31 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

You KNOW it's Zappa (timeshifting)- PROVE it's not:)

PS your prizes still suck badly. I have Howie CD's here, nothing from my previous Keni wins.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger polderboy said...

Quatuor Mosaïques?

At 5:35 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

It's the thrill of the hunt, Bil, the excitement of sharing knowledge.

And no, Polderboy, about as far from the Quatuor Mosaiques as you can get. (And personally, I find I can't get far enough from them.)


At 6:10 AM, Blogger ohnooooo! said...

Tokyo String Quartet?
OK, I'm just baldfaced guessing here. I will say that the first violinist has one heck of vibrato. They are definitely a wonderful quartet, but I'm not a fan of that kind of vibrato...

At 6:25 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Interesting guess. I've enjoyed all the incarnations of the Tokyo, including the current one now working its way through the Beethoven quartets for Harmonia Mundi. But my guess is that the Tokyo would have been more to your liking on the vibrato count.

Your feeling about the vibrato is interesting, Mimi, and I'm thinking a sign of the times. To me this is the glory of string playing. I can't imagine a more beautiful violin sound. Of course it helps to have it reproduced better than is likely to happen in the chain of analog-to-digital conversion to MP3 compression to computer audio. But the vibrato would still be what it is!


At 7:31 AM, Blogger ohnooooo! said...

I'm just being I said, it IS wonderful. I'm just looking at anything that sticks out that makes it more distinctive, so of course I latch onto anything that may help to identify it.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

It is, once again, a good-ear kind of catch, Mimi. Now the question is, what does your clue suggest about the identity of the quartet? (I'm trying not to give the thing away outright.)


At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Riders of the Purple Sage? Just a guess.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Yes, I guess that could be a guess.



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