Written in 1923 and 1924 in Berlin, the three string quartets on this disc, offer moving testimony to the vibrant cultural life of the city in the early years of the Weimar Republic. Brutal, brittle, and brilliant, ironic, irreverent, and iconoclastic, the quartets on this disc are viscerally appealing music that sounds good the first time one hears it and only gets better the more often one hears it. That the quartets of Schulhoff, Weill, and Hindemith are not better known is primarily due to the destruction of Berlin's cultural life under the Nazis. Weill and Hindemith moved to the United States and became different composers, Weill on Broadway and Hindemith at Yale. But Schulhoff moved back to Prague and, when the Nazis annexed the Czech Republic, he was moved to a concentration camp and murdered. But at the time, Schulhoff, Weill, and Hindemith were the avant-garde and their string quartets were the last word in musical modernism at its most angular, acerbic, and aggressive.
The Brandis Quartet is made up entirely of members and former members of the Berlin Philharmonic, including founder and first violinist Thomas Brandis who was its Concertmaster in the '60s. Although they had already proven themselves superb interpreters of Schubert and Beethoven, this disc of Berlin modernists was unexpected and welcome. Their performances are strong and subtle, with superb ensemble and deep if wry affection for the music. Nimbus' 1994 sound is rich and deep and detailed.