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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1974-1951)
Verklärte Nacht Op 4 (1899) [27:39]
String Trio Op 45 (1946) [18:35]
Donal McInnes (viola 2)
Jonathan Pegis (cello 2)
LaSalle Quartet
rec. 1982, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 423 250-2 [46:28]

The LaSalle Quartet here plays two of Schoenberg’s works for string instruments separated by nearly fifty years: Verklärte Nacht in its original string sextet form and his String Trio.

The opening of the former is very slow, rich and sombre - almost halting and hesitant, with little sliding elisions and portamenti between notes. The effect is ominous, but I miss a certain drive and there is a definite lack of tension affecting the flow of the music and giving it a disjointed, episodic feeling; nor do I get much sense of flowering ecstasy at the start of the second section. Comparison with the famous vintage recording by the augmented Hollywood Quartet or the Talich, also recorded in the 80’s, suggests that the combination of the closely recorded, slightly muddy digital sound given to the LaSalle and their consistently warm timbre robs the music of much of its impact. I never thought it possible to make Verklärte Nacht sound too “Romantic” but this music must not sound comfortable and “upholstered”; despite its episodes of lush harmonies, it needs to be as sharp and bracing as the cold, starlit night depicted in Richard Dehmel’s poem. The lead cello plays the opening of the fourth section beautifully, with rich, burnished tone, then the lead violin soars sweetly but although they begin to generate some passion in the finale, ultimately this performance never really takes off and emerges as rather dull.

When it comes to the String Trio Op 45 it would be remiss of me not to disclose that it is to my ears nearly twenty minutes of unmitigated aural horror. I am therefore unable to fairly assess the qualities of this performance. I leave it to other reviewers to provide their comments on the relative merits or failings of the LaSalle Quartet’s rendition.

As with most of these DG back-catalogue recordings issued under licence by Presto, this is rather short-measure, but in any case, there are superior accounts of the earlier work to be had – unless, of course you specifically want this combination of contrasting pieces from the two extremes of Schoenberg’s compositional life.

Ralph Moore

LaSalle Quartet:
Walter Levin (1st violin)
Henry Myer (2nd violin)
Peter Kamnitzer (viola)
Leo Fiser (cello)

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