Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Attacca Quartet issues some CD's: Haydn, Janacek, Mendelssohn, Adams

At the concert last week (review May 23) of the Attacca Quartet, there were some CD’s on sale, a regular one of some John Adams quartets, and then two “demos” from the Quartet at 2 for $30 cash only.  (Well, I can remember back in 1962 at “Record Sales” on G Street in downtown Washington, there were blocks of records at 2 for $3, not thirty).  I took the cash option.
One of the CD’s is called “The Best of ‘The 68’”, referring to the 68 string quartets of Franz Joseph Haydn.  There are seventeen selections, but only one quartet (#54, Op. 70 #1 in B-flat) has more than one movement played.  I would have preferred to pick out maybe three quartets.  A couple of the most interesting offerings were the “Minuet alla Zingarese” from Quartet #27 in D, and two minor keyed movements, a finale from #16 in A Minor, and then #23 in F minor, actually a fugue.
Does Haydn anticipate early Beethoven more than Mozart?  Sometimes it seems that way, in the most daring music.  Haydn could have a penchant for fun sometimes (like the “Farewell” Symphony; I had a Festival Casaks Columbia recording of that work).  On the other hand, Mozart could go into harmonic weirdness in his last string works (like the D Major Quintet slow movement, and a late F Major quartet finale). 
Haydn was more willing than Mozart to try extreme key signatures.  There is a symphony in B Major (#46), called “The Razor” (no man’s body was put in jeopardy). It’s odd in that every movement is in that key, but the first movement has daring modulations suggestive of Schubert.

One of the first long playing records I ever had was an RCA Victor :Leopold Stokowski recording (about 1951) of the Haydun Symphony #53, the “Imperial”, which has an alternate finale.  It was paired with Liszt’s “Les Preludes”, an odd combination.  I grew with that record from about seventh grade. 

One of Papa Haydn's earlier symphonies, #47 in G, is called the "Palindrome", because of its "Minuetto al Reverso".  Paul Hindemith did the same with his Horn Concerto finale (I have the old Dennis Brain Angel recording somewhere).   
The other CD contained recordings of the Janacek String Quartet #2, “Intimate Letters” (1928), apparently in D-flat Major or C# Minor.  I had discussed the performance by the Elias Quartet at Carnegie Hall in an April 7 review.  The Attacca performance seems more energetic, and seem to relate the work to a similarly episodic Beethoven Quartet in the same key (the C# Minor  -- see Brooklyn Rider, Feb. 25, 2012),  particularly with the energetic close.  Is it hard for a string quartet to play in this tonality (instead of D, one half step higher?)
The CD concludes with the String Quartet #4 in E Minor, Op. 44 #2. By Felix Mendelssohn.  This work seems less idiosyncratic with regards to string quartet idiom, and is rather workmanlike.  The finale stays in minor at the vigorous close. 
I got into record collecting as a teenager, and that was followed by CD’s in the 80s.  In my current circumstances, a lot of stuff is still packed up.  I have fetched and organized most of what I would want to listen to, but still have trouble finding some items, like the Symphony #2 in B-fat by Zemlinsky (has a wonderful Passacaglia, like the Brahms Fourth), on Records International or Marco Polo. 
Today, it seems like MP3 files, saved in the Cloud (along with PDF’s for program notes – very important) are the way to go.  Too bad for Tower Records, good for Amazon.  People should pay for the mp3’s – but maybe less than $15 a CD.  On Am,azon, they’re cheaper.  Artists do have to get paid somehow, you know.  Apple did us a good thing by promoting the $1 single on iTunes. 

No (Reid), it’s not free, not always! 

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