CD Review: Toronto cellist Rachel Mercer part of compelling recording of Dohnányi quartets


The Aviv Quartet at the time of recording. From left: Evgenia Epshtein, Rachel Mercer, Nathan Braude and Sergey Ostrovsky (Roman Malamant photo)

AVIV QUARTET
String Quartets Nos 1 & 3 (Naxos)

Hungarian pianist and composer Ernö Dohnányi (known on the Austrian side of the border as Ernst von Dohnanyi) didn’t write a lot of music, but his small output is well worth listening to. Cases in point are two of his three string quartets, recorded for this CD at St. Anne’s Church in Toronto by the Israel-based Aviv Quartet which, for many years, had Toronto cellist Rachel Mercer as a member.

Dohnányi, born in 1877, came of age in late Romanticism. He died in Florida, having fled Hungary after World War II, in 1960, well into the age of atonal experimentation. But his music remained resolutely tonal, making his style highly unfashionable during the second half of his life.

It’s too bad the two quartets on this disc never made it into the general chamber repertoire, because this is beautiful music.

The first quartet, published in 1899, is a straightforward, four-movement piece that doesn’t stand out either for folk influences or deep musical ideas. String Quartet No. 3, written in 1926, which has three movements, is more substantial, with clearly defined themes, an adventurous chromaticism, and a nice balance of momentum and sweetness.

The Aviv Quartet, which featured violist Nathan Braude and violins Sergey Ostrovsky and Evgenia Epshtein alongside Mercer when this recording was made in 2010, has a light touch that emphasizes transparency and beautifully shaped musical phrases.

These performances become more attractive the more one listens to them.

For all the details and audio samples from this disc, click here.

Here is the Aviv Quartet playing Dphnányi’s String Quartet No. 1:

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Naxos has released a fine set of two string quartets by late-Classical/early-Romantic German composer Louis Spohr (1874-1859) on its hodepodgey Marco Polo label.

The disc — No. 15 in a series meant to cover all 36 of Spohr’s string quartets — features a sparkling, new recording of his Quatuor brilliant No. 4 , Op. 68, in A major by the Concertino String Quartet of the Moscow Philharmonic alongside a reissued recording of String Quartet No. 22, Op. 74 No. 3, by the New Budapest Quartet.

Both interpretations are excellent and the audio quality is amazingly consistent, given that the recordings are by two different ensembles, in different spaces, separated by 14 years.

The first quartet shows off the first violin, so that Spohr could show off his own way with a fiddle. It’s more pretty fluff than musical substance.

The four-movement String Quartet No. 22 is almost worthy of something by Schubert, for its solid structure and careful development of themes shared by all four players.

Fans of chamber music should give it a listen.

For full details, as well as audio samples, click here.

Here is the New Budapest playing String Quartet No. 21, Op. 74 No. 2:

John Terauds

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