Quartetto Adorno / Alessandro Carbonare

Zemlinsky: Quartet No. 3 Op. 19; Brahms: Quintet Op. 115

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Johannes Brahms may have had no greater admirer in fin de siècle Vienna, than Alexander von Zemlinsky, who as a young composer studied his scores voraciously, and in many cases, adopted Brahms' style, particularly in his early works. Yet the String Quartet No. 3, Op. 19, composed in 1924, is a far cry from the passionate late Romanticism that was characteristic of Brahms and his immediate followers and is much closer to the free atonality and angular expressionism of Arnold Schoenberg, Zemlinsky's one-time student, and son-in-law, as well as a fellow Brahms enthusiast. Curiously, the String Quartet No. 3 is a strong reaction against Schoenberg's recently discovered 12-tone method and a demonstration of how to use modified tonality to achieve many of the same effects of atonal expressionism without abandoning pitch centers. Even so, there seems to be a rather large gulf between Brahms' autumnal Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 and the Zemlinsky work, so the connections between the pieces may seem tenuous, except for Zemlinsky's grounding as a committed Brahmsian. The Quartetto Adorno plays both works with admirable control, and the Brahms performance features clarinetist Alessandro Carbonare, whose warm timbres and smooth phrasing are at the service of the work's nostalgic and poignant moods. The pairing of these works isn't a common thing, so the group deserves credit for drawing comparisons between Brahms and Zemlinsky and making listeners think of the influences at work in Viennese music at the transition between late Romanticism and early modernism.

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