Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

A quarter century of musical conviction

The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

Ten years of recordings

Both the search for new repertoire as well as the unceasing interest in the second Viennese School are reflected in the Schoenberg Quartet discography of the 1990s. Just as in the previous decades, the quartet worked with a fixed and close-knit recording team. The recordings were generally managed by Bob Zimmerman while the sound technician was Adriaan Verstijnen, who was also in charge of editing.Verstijnen is particularly taken with the quartet’s attitude to music making in general and recording in particular. “Speaking as a sound technician I have the feeling with some musicians that I’m at the Olympic Games. Everything has to be just perfect and the tapes get cut to ribbons. The Schoenberg Quartet is well prepared for the sessions and the atmosphere always relaxed. They aim to create something worthwhile. A nice take is often retouched and no more. They make extremely modest use of the unprecedented possibilities of modern digital technology.”

Zimmerman too underscores the professionalism of the quartet in their making of compact disc recordings. “They have enormous experience in making recordings and know exactly how to behave. They know how long they can hold their concentration and they are familiar with the technology. Even when Adriaan has balanced the sound it’s up to them to give it the green light. In that respect they have a healthy attitude and you’ll never hear any one of them saying they can’t be heard well enough, something you do encounter in inexperienced musicians.” The Schoenberg Quartet likes most of all to make long takes, says Zimmerman. “Their idea of perfection appeals enormously to me. You can get rid of any unevenness by replacing one or two measures in each case, but that gives a sterile result with lapses in the intensity. Where they’re so successful is in conveying emotion, even through loudspeakers, whereby a recording feels something like a concert.” The quartet’s approach therefore demands great stamina.”They make takes that are as long as possible. That is sometimes tiring because the circumstances are often far from ideal. A church, for instance, can be quite chilly or the lighting poor. Despite that I have never heard one of them snap. They work long hours, never pause terribly long, and remain good-humoured. It’s the nicest recording job I have.”

The first recordings of the 1990s were brought out by Koch/Schwann, the label that had also issued compact discs of the Schoenberg Quartet in its former cast. A particular highlight of the discography is the Schulhoff programme comprising both quartets, the Fünf Stücke and the Sextet, for which they were joined by Jan Erik van Regteren Altena and Taco Kooistra. The Schulhoff disc was extremely positively received by the journals for recorded music. In 1994 it was nominated for a Cannes Classical Award and in the same year it received the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik. In the same period the Schoenberg Quartet also collaborated with Koch/Schwann on a French programme, with the Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet by Chausson and Dutilleux’s Ainsi la nuit quartet. The recording magazine Luister considered the Dutilleux quartet to be the crowning feature of the disc. The composer himself was much taken with the recording and in a letter to the quartet members he expressed his appreciation of their interpretation. It was agreed with Koch that recordings could be made with other labels as well. Attaca, for instance, brought out a disc comprising a combination of Shostakovich’s Fifteenth Quartet with Van Vlijmen’s Trimurti. The quartet also worked with Olympia on a project to record the chamber music of Roussel, an undertaking that was greeted with mixed reactions from the press. There was, however, unqualified enthusiasm for the Olympia recording of the five string quartets of Pijper. Gramophone commended the quartet as ‘virtually ideal defenders of the case for Pijper’ and music magazine Entr’acte praised their perfection and timing. In the early 1990s the Schoenberg Quartet also continued their project of recording the complete string quartets of Schoenberg, originally intended for Koch. For three days during the summer of 1991, they worked in Utrecht’s Maria Minor Church on a recording of the Fourth Quartet. Exactly a year later, this time in the Old Catholic Church in Delft, Schoenberg’s String Quartet in D was committed to disc. The Schoenberg recordings then languished for years waiting to be released. At the end of the 1990s Koch, following radical changes to the company, found itself unable to bring the project to completion. Ultimately the recordings were to find their way into the Chandos recording project of the complete chamber music for strings of the Second Viennese School.