Kuss Quartett

Thème Russe

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This collection of music linked by its "thème russe" or Russian theme seems extremely slight, but as you listen you realize that slight things may contain interesting essences. The thème russe idea may represent an actual melodic theme, as in the collaboratively composed and quite rare Variations on a Russian folk song for string quartet (the song apparently was made up by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov); it may represent the idea of Russianness in music; or it may represent the peculiar Russian attitude toward the string quartet, which was kept at arm's length as a quintessentially Western form yet exerted a certain fascination. With the exception of Tchaikovsky's early String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, one of his most Western-oriented works, these are mostly short pieces. The highlights are the pieces from Tchaikovsky's Album for the Young, presented in old string quartet transcriptions by Rostislav Dubinsky of the original Borodin Quartet that make them sound like little excerpts from the Nutcracker or one of the other Tchaikovsky evergreens. The string quartet is handled in some dazzling ways. It's not clear why the Album for the Young should be interrupted by Stravinsky's Concertino for string quartet and Alfred Schnittke's Canon in Memoriam Igor Stravinsky, which share little more than a vague Russian orientation with the rest of the music. And the placement of the Tchaikovsky quartet at the end deflates the mood somehow. But this is a set of oddities that, in the hands of Berlin's Kuss Quartet (blow them a kiss if you see them), somehow adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Onyx overdoes the sound in Berlin's Jesus-Christus-Kirche; a less intense, intimate environment was called for with this music.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Variations on a Russian Folk Song
1 0:56
2 0:40
3 0:52
4 1:25
5 0:50
6 1:18
7 1:00
8 0:58
9 2:02
10 0:47
11 1:17
Album for the Young op. 39
12 1:00
13 6:58
14 6:36
Album for the Young op. 39
15 1:52
16 1:32
17 0:33
18 0:57
19 1:51
20 1:47
21 0:31
22 1:58
23 1:17
String Quartet no. 1 in D op. 11
24 11:32
25 6:44
26 3:59
27 6:55
blue highlight denotes track pick