Aviv Quartet

Erwin Schulhoff: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; Five Pieces for String Quartet

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On this Naxos release, the Canadian-Israeli Aviv Quartet essays the better part of Erwin Schulhoff's output for string quartet. Schulhoff no longer needs introduction; this disc contains all of his string quartet music save the 1918 String Quartet in G, Op. 25, sometimes called "Quartet No. 0." The two numbered quartets and his Five Pieces date very closely together, composed from 1923-1925, and have a strong sense of continuity as a group though also enough variety to keep a program such as this interesting from start to finish. This has not been lost on ensembles, and this combination of pieces has appeared on CD no less than five times already. What Aviv Quartet has to offer is a very crisp and energetic reading of all of the music, elements that are essential as the rhythmic dynamics of Schulhoff's chamber compositions and the relation to dance music popular in Europe during the 1920s -- tango, fox trot, jazz-derived, and what have you -- are as important to the profile of this music as the allusions to traditional Czech and Slovenian music. If you go into Schulhoff thinking that it's going to be like Bartók, Martinu, or Janácek, you're in for a surprise. One of the reasons there is so much excitement about Schulhoff in Europe is that he is obviously a master who found his own direction among the 1920s modernists and followed it with consistency and completely equipped technically; we just simply missed him when the catalog of canonical modernists was drawn up in the postwar period. Aviv Quartet have obviously made a thoroughgoing study of this repertoire and play it as if they'd known it always; how that compares to some of the already very viable options -- such as the Petersen Quartet's recording for Capriccio or the Lockenhaus gang on Philips -- is hard to say. Nevertheless, this Naxos recording is everything it ought to be, and given that Naxos is still budget priced in comparison to most other options, this might become the pick to click for the many who have not found themselves in the company of Schulhoff's quartet literature just yet. And if you are among those who haven't experienced this music, you should; if you appreciate the quartet literature of Bartók, Martinu, or Janácek, then there is no way this will fail to please.

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