The divine Alban Berg

April 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Not all Lindsays’ recordings of Haydn are equally perfect.  Their Op. 33 and Op. 54 have an ugly, screechy, scratching sound. This may perhaps be due to poor sound engineering; but the tempi definitely are not.  I thought I would never hear myself say such a thing, but Kodaly play op. 54 better; and Borodin op. 33.

The undisputed masters of all string quartet repertoire which they have ever deigned to play are of course the Alban Berg:  even from the exalted heights of Borodin, Kodaly, Lindsays and Mosaiques, one can at best glimpse only their feet floating high up in the sky.  What a pity they have recorded so little Haydn — opting instead for all of Beethoven.  One is thankful of course that they have — Die Grosse Fuge had never — and will never again — sounded so good, but what a pity not to have op. 20 or op. 33 by their hand.

The fault is no doubt the producers’ –who probably think Beethoven is serious stuff, but Haydn “inconsequential” (people’s power of perception never penetrate the surface, polish is detrimental to popularity).

Kremer’s ensemble is very good — why does he not record more than the Seven Last Words?


Learning the Haydn string quartets

May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are things — experiences — which cannot be recorded because they are not understood; and which are not understood because we lack the intellectual apparatus with which to comprehend them. If we had the apparatus, we could — the smarter among us, anyway, could — just maybe — invent the necessary words: language and cerebration are not one and the same, as anyone who has ever invented a word must surely be convinced; but I have no hope of ever inventing the words with which to express how important to me was the discovery of the Haydn string quartets: I am too ignorant of the technical aspects of the music; and the abstract nature of my emotional response to it escapes my ability to conceptualize it.

I have all the less hope of expressing — why, of grasping, even — the importance of the discovery because its impact is self-contained: i.e. it is important to itself only. That I am now familiar with several opera recorded by several different ensembles changes nothing — except that: Haydn string quartets are a thing onto themselves, learning about them does not make one a better lover, or a better day-trader, or a better man. 

In this, they are comparable to the experience of seeing the four-planet conjunction just before dawn in the eastern sky: all that can be said about it is — that I saw it. These words, as I write them, seem so inadequate to the weight of the experience, that I keep looking back at what I wrote with surprise, trying to spot the error.  But there is no error.  The words are precise and accurate: I have seen the four planets in conjunction; I have learned Haydn.

It follows that the only thing I can say about the experience of learning the Haydn string quartets is — incredibly — this:

“This is what I have been doing: learning the Haydn string quartets. Swathes of time over the last five months have been dedicated to listening. I have been moved, surprised, fascinated, and gratified.”

Somehow, all that can be said about it, all that I can say about it — can be said…  in just three simple sentences, simple, Spartan, unarmed; gaunt like a violin playing a high G.

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