Zehetmair Quartett: Béla Bartók/Paul Hindemith (ECM New Series 1874)

 

Zehetmair Quartett
Béla Bartók/Paul Hindemith

Thomas Zehetmair violin
Kuba Jakowicz violin
Ruth Killius viola
Ursula Smith violoncello
Recorded June 2006, Kulturbühne AmBach, Götzis
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The sound of the Zehetmair Quartet is hard to miss. Playing from memory, this intensely talented ensemble brings a fiery passion to everything that receives its bows. Following up their groundbreaking recordings of Schumann and Hartmann/Bartók, Zehetmair and company return in the latter vein, pairing the Hungarian’s Fifth (1934) with Paul Hindemith’s Fourth (1921).

Bartók’s writing is as colorful as it is a joy to play, and from the first Allegro even the new listener will note the freshness of the territory. So begins a flowing series of vignettes, of which the slinking Adagio is the most enigmatic departure from the density of its surroundings, as if the ghost of the first were whispering in our ears. The Scherzo proves fertile ground for the composer, a gesture par excellence that stakes a claim in the brain. Promises are fulfilled in chains, as Bartók seems to favor a tight and, in Zehetmair’s words, “functional” approach. The Finale sets us swooning, working in knit clusters made all the more intriguing by the flawless playing.

Hindemith’s quartet, also in five movements, stresses a complimentary ability at the slow and inward looking. The Fugato through which it breathes into life is a perfect example of his ability to do for introspection movements what Bartók does for the extro, forging an idiosyncratic lyricism that constantly reforms itself. The Debussy-like charm of the third movement touches the heart, lulling us via a cello-heavy passage into the fanciful Rondo that leaves us breathless.

Invigorating, committed, superb. No lesser adjectives will suffice.

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