Prazák Quartet / Jaromir Klepac

Arnold Schönberg: Scherzo; Presto; Chamber Symphony; String Quartet No. 3

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For its fifth volume of chamber works by Arnold Schoenberg, the Prazák Quartet offers what looks like an odd lot of pieces composed for string quartet, and an arrangement of an orchestral work for piano quintet. The grab-bag quality of the program may throw off the unwary who don't realize that this SACD comes toward the end of the series, but these pieces need to be included. The rather derivative Scherzo in F and the Presto in C for string quartet are of late 19th century vintage, though their uncomplicated tonality makes them appear to date quite a bit earlier in the Romantic era. Schoenberg's mature, recognizable voice doesn't really appear in this program until the Chamber Symphony, in an arrangement for string quartet and piano by Anton Webern that is a marvel of economy. This important work, and the String Quartet No. 3, make this album more than a catch-all for minor pieces, but offer glimpses of Schoenberg's development through the quartal harmonies and restless tonality of the Chamber Symphony to the twelve-tone technique that appears full-blown in the String Quartet No. 3. The Prazák Quartet and pianist Jaromir Klepác give a vigorous performance of the Chamber Symphony, which has the benefit of Webern's pared-down orchestration to make it utterly clear. The String Quartet is equally lucid, and the intensity of Schoenberg's counterpoint is balanced with the openness of the group's sound. Praga's multichannel recording helps the musicians stretch out and have distinctive parts, so if Schoenberg's quartet writing ever seemed dense or difficult before, super audio technology makes it all perfectly transparent.

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