Jean-Jacques DÜNKI (b. 1948)
Madrigaux for string quartet (2011-12) [21:30]
Alexander von ZEMLINSKY (1871-1942)
String Quartet No.1 in A major Op.4 (1896) [28:00]
rec. Hans Huber-Saal, Stadtcasino, Basel, Switzerland. October 2012. stereo
CD: music only; Blu-Ray: music [49:30]; interview [31:32]
BMN 20131 [CD: 49:30; Blu-Ray: 81:02]
Since the Zemlinsky Quartet are a first class ensemble let us deal with the music-making first.
The premiere recording of the quartet Madrigaux by Swiss pianist and composer Jean-Jacques Dünki gives a rare opportunity to hear some of his music. I cannot say it is at all easy to listen to but whilst very much 'modern' it does not come over as random noise. There is a sense of coherence about the piece which might have been more easily grasped had my German been up to watching the lengthy interview provided. Sadly there are no subtitles for this and one has only the inadequate liner-note which is too convoluted to shed light. All one can say is that Dünki's music is not without value.
The Zemlinsky quartet is much easier meat. Written in 1896 it is in the traditional four movements and reflects the influence of Wagner and Schubert whilst still having something of the Mahlerian angst current at that time. The opening movement is a lovely broad conception full of invention. It is followed by a beautiful and lyrical allegretto punctuated by dance-like episodes. The slow movement, headed 'Broad and Intense' is very powerful. The lively finale is highly attractive and leaves one feeling that this is not a quartet deserving of such neglect. Neglect is what Zemlinsky had for many years after his death and it is only since the late 1970s that his small but impressive catalogue of works has gained the performances it deserves.
Unfortunately the issue has several technical problems that for me rule it out of consideration. The package contains a standard CD and a Blu-Ray disc along with a flyer extolling the virtues of Blu-Ray sound and its ease of use. It has both performances on video along with an interview with Jean-Jacques Dünki. I have already noted that this has no subtitles so unless you speak good German you will gain nothing from it.
The music is filmed by one fixed camera in front of the performers making it of some limited interest. The audio on the BD is HiRes at 24bit/96kHz and in the case of the Zemlinsky it sounds very good. The track control however allows only one track to be played at a time which means that each movement has to be selected from the poorly behaved main menu or by selecting the track number on your remote. I could not achieve continuous play. As if this was not enough, the Dünki piece sounds to have been issued in mono. I can detect no lateral spread at all and nearly gave up listening at that point. I have to assume this is another mastering mistake. The Zemlinsky is stereo and does sound excellent.
Moving to the CD that too has a mono recording of the Dünki and a stereo of the Zemlinsky but does play continuously as usual. That very nearly allowed me to recommend the CD but at the very end of the Zemlinsky Quartet the final notes are cut off before the echo has even begun the die away and with an audible click. This came as an unpleasant shock and finally ruled this whole issue out of court. In the case of the new piece this is a pity, in the case of the Zemlinsky there is an excellent Praga Digitals issue of the Op. 4 Quartet along with the Op. 25 and the Two Movements of 1927, a full 40 minutes of extra Zemlinsky to enjoy. The Prazák Quartet are fully the equal of the Zemlinsky Quartet and the CD recording has no problems at all.