Fred Sherry String Quartet

Schoenberg: String Quartets Nos. 3 & 4; Phantasy

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Though his later works relied almost exclusively on his trademark twelve-tone atonality, Schoenberg was always one to pay homage to the masters and traditions that came before him. The Third and Fourth string quartets, while clearly atonal, are prime examples of this trait. The Third Quartet reminds listeners of rondo, minuet, and theme and variations while describing a gruesome image from Schoenberg's childhood in the first movement. The Fourth Quartet uses a system of sustained variation while echoing composers of the Classical and Romantic eras. Both of these quartets are elaborate and sophisticated pieces of music that can easily be rendered nebulous without a strong, authoritative performance. Fortunately for listeners, the Fred Sherry String Quartet, under the supervision of renowned conductor and Schoenberg scholar Robert Craft, produces just such a performance. The quartet's technical execution is beyond reproach: brilliant intonation, striking tone colors, tight-knit ensemble, and precise articulation. Even though the quartet changes 50% of its members between the Third and Fourth quartets, it maintains a surprisingly consistent and satisfying vision. Craft's supervision yields an amazingly vivid soundscape, careful balance between the instruments, and spacious stereo imaging. This album, part of Craft's complete Schoenberg project, also features an equally commanding performance of the fiendish Phantasy for violin with piano accompaniment by violinist Rolf Schulte and pianist Christopher Oldfather. As with previous installments of Craft's work on Naxos, this album is highly recommended.

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