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Schumann: String Quartets 1 & 3

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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Having established himself as a soloist by the time he was 40, Austrian violinist Thomas Zehetmair defeated the midlife crisis by finding new fields to conquer. He branched out into conducting and, in 1997, formed a string quartet, which has already performed widely in Europe and America and released two CDs; this is the second. (The first featured works by Bartók and Karl Amadeus Hartmann.) Zehetmair's reputation was always based not only on his wide-ranging, adventurous repertoire, and unbridled temperament, but also on his idiosyncratic style and interpretive eccentricities, and he brings all these qualities to his quartet playing. He has chosen partners who are very good players and presumably kindred spirits, but they all pursue other activities as well and, moreover, do not live in the same city. Thus, their rehearsal time is limited, and they say they make the most of it by rehearsing, performing, and recording entirely from memory. Indeed, their intonation and ensemble are excellent, but this is not--or at least not yet--a unified quartet. The personalities have not merged, the tone lacks homogeneity, the balance is poor, the texture muddy, important details are lost. Instead of letting their solos emerge from a seamlessly woven tapestry of lines, the players tend to be too assertive or too subdued. Zehetmair's influence is clear in the tonal and musical excesses. Though he himself can produce a sweet, floating tone, the sound is predominantly rough and scratchy; tempi are erratic, often hectic, rhythms unsteady, dynamics exaggerated. --Edith Eisler
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Product Details

  • Composer: Robert Schumann
  • Audio CD (January 28, 2003)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM
  • ASIN: B00007M846
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,475 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
While this recording is undoubtedly one of the most hyped quartet releases in recent years, and while the Gramophone Award alone is insufficient to justify any music purchase, I fail to understand what the editor found so offensive about this lovely recording. I've never been a Schumann fan, and only recently began to understand the critical role his music played in the compositions of Debussy and other Impressionists and neo-Romantics. I've heard these works performed before, and neither past performance was memorable. I purchased the Zehetmair Quartet recording sheerly on the say-so of Gramophone, and in this case, Gramophone was right as rain. I have rarely heard a small ensemble so totally prepared, both technically and emotionally, for a performance. The players are highly responsive to one another (you can actually feel the heat at times) and their tightness only confirms their devotion to this music. Certainly, there are moments at which passions bubble a bit too high and the sonics become a little strident, but after one hearing, I long to return to this recording to discover even more about the composer's intent. I should add that the adagios are lovely, lyrical and very moving, so much so that I found it impossible not to pay attention to the performance. The negatives? Chintzy performance time at about 47:00, and an accoustic that is sometimes too reverberant for the character of the music. A drier sound might have been more effective. I also noticed a few moments of rolloff distortion, but they were so subtle, my ears might have been at fault. In summary, then, this is a wonderful quartet recording by a prodigiously gifted ensemble addressing music which is recorded only occasionally. The packaging, notes and general presentation enhance the listening experience. I would not award it the Record of the Year, as Gramophone did, although I would award it Best Chamber Recording. Five stars.
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By A Customer on January 6, 2004
Format: Audio CD
The amazon official review is totally off the mark. Here's what Gramophone said in rating it the best classical record of 2003:
Schumann's string quartets, dedicated to Felix Mendelssohn, slip quietly in and out of the record catalogue with unremarkable regularity. This, however, is a disc that needs to be greeted with loud trumpetings because it houses playing of a passion and intensity that is very rarely encountered on disc. The Zehetmair Quartet are not a full-time quartet - their first violin, Thomas Zehetmair, has to juggle with a high-profile solo career as well as being conductor of the Northern Sinfonia - but they come together for periods of intensive study, rehearsal, concert-giving and recording. They are also one of very few quartets who don't use scores when they perform - and I think you can tell within a few bars that something special is going on. Rob Cowan wrote of these performances that they are `quite simply, the best: agile, excitable, nervously intense and in the slower music probing to an almost painful degree. Theirs is a dialogue that brings Schumann's spirit to life, which is pretty rare in an age that so often seems unresponsive to Romantic sensibilities'. One of the panelists rang me after listening to all 15 of the Best of Category discs and said that, unequivocally, there was only one Record of the Year. It is a belief you, too, will share from the very first note. It is stunning.
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Format: Audio CD
Amazon's review is true. If you're looking for seamless, homogeneous and aristocratic playing, go elsewhere. To paraphrase Jim Svejda, they sound like they're just making it up as they go along! These are all excellent musicians. This music was once new and exciting, and these performances make it sound like that again. This CD wouldn't ideally be the only one I'd own of these works, but I wouldn't part with it either. It's alive, It's alive!
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The playing here is virtuoso, spontaneous, well thought out and sensitively rendered. Clearly etched and...the tuning is almost perfect! Lots of attack from the violins in the fast movements. Sometimes the viola and cello sound a bit reticent in comparison. True, the four do not always seem to be communicating seamlessly. At times, it sounds a bit like a violin duet, with Viola and Cello accompaniment. But that may also reflect the composition. The dynamics are very sensitive, in contrast with quite a few Romantic chamber recordings where they seem exaggerated.

There's a very good essay included (though it's a difficult read, having been translated from German) on Schumann's emphasis on repeated motifs, especially rhythmic "aphorisms", in framing his pieces, in contrast to Beethoven's perfection of theme and variation.

But what makes this disc a winner is the sound. Very clear and open with a good 3d image.
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Format: Audio CD
I think that the Amazon editor is "smokin' crack," as my friend would say. "The personalities have not merged, the tone lacks homogeneity, the balance is poor, the texture muddy, important details are lost" she writes.

The sound of the Zehetmair Quartet on this CD couldn't be more cohesive and organic. It sounds as if they are creating the music themselves, not something that they've had to practice and memorize.

The music is riveting, vibrant, and energetic...how a good string quartet should sound.

Now let me sound off against the label, ECM. If they keep putting 2/3 or 3/4 full CDs out and charging above what other labels charge for 70+ minutes of music, they're only advocating piracy in my opinion. Look at what they're charging for Part CDs.
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