Thursday, May 13, 2010

Schulhoff's Quartets, Beautifully Performed

If you are not familiar with the music of Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), you aren't alone. There are reasons for that. A Czech would-be national whose left-leaning politics ended him up in a Nazi concentration camp, where he died in 1942, he was one of those whose career and very life were essentially deconstructed by the tragic and evil circumstances of those horrible times.

But lucky for us all his music survives and seems to be undergoing a resurgence. A terrific place to start is with the release at hand, an excellent Naxos recording of his String Quartets. This is music with an Eastern European, Slavic, Semitic (?) sound to it. It's very lovely, very rhythmic in parts, very melodically interesting and very well put-together. Think of the quartets of Janacek and Bartok (and Dvorak before them), then forget all of that because Schulhoff doesn't channel their music in any direct way. He is simply working out of a musical mind-set that he in part shares with these three great composers. (Like Kafka and Musil, for a literary parallel). And in my humble opinion, Schulhoff's Quartets hold their own in such illustrious company.

But I might have missed the impact of this music if it wasn't for the exceptional performances of the Aviv Quartet. They are just fabulous. They have the Slavic-Semitic brio in full abundance, which is exactly what these quartets need. The Aviv Quartet play with great energy, passion, fire and rhythmic dash. Just beautiful!

To combine all of this and the peanuts Naxos asks you to pay to get a copy, well, I certainly would not hesitate to respectfully compel you to go and grab this one. In fact, here we are in May, but so far without hesitation this release is MY SLEEPER OF THE YEAR. Set your farmer's alarm clock for early and go out and get a copy before they all disappear! Seriously though, I am enchanted with this release. And I am quite surprised, because I had no idea that Schulhoff's music was this good.

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