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Die Kunst der Fuge › Modern String Quartet
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Modern String Quartet

Mood 1995; recorded September 1994, Liederhalle Stuttgart.
Menu: printed score with Choral, + Canon in Hypodiatesseron
Total Time: 80:35

The quartet is at home in Munich, and in a particular musical domain: In the late 80s, they surprised the public with arrangements of standards by honoured gentlemen like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock… and they released one disc with compositions by all four of the quartet’s members. (Their KdF recording is produced by another jazzer, Wolfgang Dauner.)

Anyone who follows their pilgrimage to the temple of academic occidental music will find no traces of jazz, but nothing less than a serious, well prepared and perfectly recorded KdF version for string quartet. Cp. 10 might serve as a reference track: simply a solid, clear-to-the-ear recording of what it is: a masterpiece of a 4-part fugue.

Other movements might show here & there some unusual marks like tiny glissandi, some parts contrasting by legato - staccato etc, but all of this is well dosed, well placed and spicy. (The only tickling surprise waits at Cp. 11 - but we do not want to spoil the effect and won’t tell you before you listened to it for the first time; if you’re too eager to know, feel free to Contact us.)

These small specials are never simple effects, but always serve to the quartet’s conception. The effort of searching a particular character for each movement becomes evident - Cp.4, e.g., representing a muscular decision, is followed by Cp.5 which appears as an elegy that manages to turn back, with a sigh, to where it came from, before slipping over the tear-soaked edge. Another one is also a rather melancholy lamento for two violins: Canon in Hypodiatesseron from the autograph score, mostly neglected in other DKdF recordings - here it is played with a density that comes near to the Keller Quartet’s recording, some 15 years later. Finally, in the last, unfinished fugue the quartet presents all its qualities to unfold a chamber drama whose abrupt ending is relieved by the Choral: the lower parts modestly con sordino, supporting the cantus firmus which comes along with a warmhearted, tender vibrato.

In this sense, the recording shares its idea with the one presented by the Berliner Saxophon Quartett - both tried to characterize each fugue by a clear colouring, more than other string or wind quartets (some of them bear - or lack - other qualities, e.g. like a more general conception). And both started from the same home base: jazz.

A small minus on this recording… what sounded like specially coloured tones, e.g. in the Canon alla Decima, could even be regarded as an intonation problem, or vice versa. A plus: cello and viola well balanced with the violins, so that even the lower lines remain clearly audible.

Nice small booklet (in German) with many wise remarks from Goethe to Gould about music, Bach and DKdF…

Recommendation: Yes! - a fine version.

(Mood records is a label of, and exclusively distributed by Zweitausendeins. )

P.S. In fact, any review commits a crime by mentioning, for example, a musician’s origin, his or her sources, schools and roots. As no human being should be judged by its passport, and no wine should be tasted according to the indications on the bottle, any music should, at first, be listened to. And any question occurring while or after listening, maybe can be helped to be cleared by stylistic or biographical explanation.

Imagine an experiment: listening to various recordings (of the same work) that you or your friends do not know yet, and take it as it sounds, and think and talk about it. Later you can read comments or liner notes, and maybe you’ll be surprised. Imagine - and try it.

(May 2002)