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Bartók ‘Bartók by Heart’ Six String Quartets Chiara Quartet Azica F b ACD71310 (153’ • DDD)
First Brahms, now Bartók. The Chiara Quartet first undertook the formidable challenge of recording music from memory with ‘Brahms by Heart’, comprising the three string quartets and Second String Quintet, Op 111 (6/14US). The experiment was a smashing success, and so is ‘Bartók by Heart’, arguably an even more fearsome test: playing the composer’s six ultra-demanding string quartets with no printed music in sight.
From the musicians’ perspective, this apparently isn’t so terrifying. As they write in a booklet-note, ‘through the memorisation process, we are able to return Bartók’s music to the realm of the unrecorded folk music he so lovingly captured’. While there’s no way for the listener to tell that the ensemble is interacting minus parts before them, the performances have an edge-of-the-seat quality that heightens the power and mystery in these seminal scores.
As is true of many recordings (and complete live performances) of the six quartets, the evolution of Bartók’s achievement doesn’t receive exact chronological consideration: they are grouped on these discs by odd and even numbers. The Chiara treat each quartet with striking attention to rhythmic shape, atmosphere and dramatic intensity. The moods vary wildly as Bartók tweaks folk material and probes dark and light territory to mesmerising effect, and the Chiara players remain flexible and urgent wherever the music leads them.
Or the other way around. The fact that these artists weren’t glued to the page may have been key to the potent connections they’ve made on behalf of Bartók. However they did it, the results are memorable. Donald Rosenberg talks to... Rebecca Fisher The first violin of the Chiara Quartet on performing Bartók – and more – by heart
Explain when and why you started performing ‘by heart’. We started experimenting with playing by heart in 2011 after we had decided to re‑record an album of the complete Brahms quartets; we found the edits of our first recording to be too predictable-sounding, musically speaking, and were searching for ways to find more spontaneity and freedom.
How does your approach help you meet the challenges Bartók sets? Bartók’s quartets contain infinitely rich and complex music. Memorising the music helps us to get a unique perspective on that complexity and make sense of it from the inside out. It almost feels as if we are getting inside the composer’s head. Ideally through playing Bartók by heart we also find a closer link to the folk music (performed by heart by musicians from an oral tradition) that provided Bartók with his original inspiration.
How does it change the process of performing?
Brahms . Ewazen . Kellogg ‘Inspired by Brahms’ Brahms Horn Trio, Op 40 Ewazen Horn Trio Kellogg A Glorious Morning Michael Thornton hn Yumi Hwang-Williams vn Andrew Litton pf Albany F TROY1616 (57’ • DDD)
Brahms set the bar extraordinarily high for composers who set out to write for the complement of horn, violin and piano. His
There is certainly a strong sense of vulnerability when we are on stage without music, for us and for the audience. This vulnerability encourages us to listen and communicate in a deeper way with everyone in the room, but it also inspires us to take more risks with the music because we know it so well. The performances are quite active: one audience member described a recent concert as a ‘3D listening experience’. Because there is nothing in between us and the audience, the interaction is more direct and palpable.
What are you planning next? We have a few recording projects in the pipeline as well as some exciting commissions…we’ll keep you posted!
own so-called Horn Trio, Op 40, is an acknowledged masterpiece and a staple of the horn repertoire.
Bravo, then, to Eric Ewazen and Daniel Kellogg, who evidently (or metaphorically) looked intimidation straight in the eye while creating their pieces duplicating Brahms’s instrumentation. Both works are superb additions to the chamber music literature, and so different from their illustrious precedessor as to avoid comparisons. Well, almost. Ewazen’s Trio pays tribute to Brahms’s four-movement structure without sounding like anything gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE OCTOBER 2016 I