How good is this string quartet

The string quartet - alive unbroken

Haydn and Tchaikovsky with the Schumann Quartet


From Peter Hagmann


Anyone who thinks the string quartet is too elitist to survive is mistaken. Probably never in the two hundred year history of this genre has there been so many outstanding string quartets as there are today. Some reasons can be given for this. The first concerns education at conservatoires, which has improved significantly in quality in the recent past. The young musicians are then trained not only well, but also in large numbers, while on the other hand, with the orchestras for example, savings and dismantling are being made in many areas of Europe - which is why founding an ensemble or joining one despite this precarious income has become an important professional prospect. Finally, it should not be forgotten that all these ensembles would not exist if there were no audiences for them. And there is this audience - in the high-quality and stimulating string quartet cycle that the new concert series by Jürg Hochulis is performing in St. Peter's Church in Zurich, it was to be experienced again.

Gathered here are listeners who know what they are getting into - otherwise the Schumann Quartet from Germany would not have been celebrated so emphatically. The brothers Erik Schumann (first violin), Ken Schumann (second violin) and Mark Schumann (cello) as well as the violist Liisa Randalu, who comes from Estonia but grew up in Germany, also had a downright rarity in their luggage. We know the ballets and symphonies from Peter Tchaikovsky, perhaps the first piano concerto and the violin concerto; but that he also composed three string quartets is virtually unknown - these works rarely appear in the concert programs. The third quartet in particular leaves deep impressions in the rare key of E flat minor, especially in an emotionally charged interpretation like the one offered by the Schumann Quartet. They approached the first movement with its harmoniously peculiar introduction with all intensity, but without any excess of vibrato or glissando. In the scherzo-like second movement they brought the rhythmic formations to an almost physical presence, while in the funeral march of the third movement, for which they put on strong dampers and struck a very dark tone, they found incredible visual quality - you could literally see the monks passing by indicate empty fifths here. The finale with its orchestral extraversion is all the more liberating.

Before that there had been a classic in the repertoire, the masterful string quartet in B flat major Hob. III: 78, number 4 from the six Erdödy quartets, op. 76, which is entitled «Sunrise». And this work was also performed in a pointed interpretation. On the one hand, because the Schumann Quartet has a somewhat special arrangement, the cellist does not sit opposite the primary violinist, but rather the violist, while the cellist has his place where the master on the viola in other quartets. This has the decisive advantage that the often underexposed middle voice has a clear relief, which is of particular benefit to Haydn's sunrise quartet. Not only the polyphony was sharpened, but also the sound. The Schumann Quartet is one of those ensembles of the younger generation who take a differentiated approach to vibrato as a matter of course. The straight or only slight vibrato has its place here, which gave the beginning of the piece its very own charm. Musical interpretation as visualization, i.e. as a transfer of a work of art more than two hundred years old into the present, was realized here on a dazzling level.

Posted on author Peter HagmannCategories Chamber Music, Music in ZurichTags New Zurich Concert Series, Schumann Quartet, Tschaikowsky Peter string quartets