Though a pupil of the great orchestrator Rimsky-Korsakov, and in turn a teacher to the likes of Rachmaninov, Glière, and Scriabin, Anton Arensky himself is a composer often forgotten when contemplating the Russian greats. Productive in many genres, it is perhaps in his chamber music that this unduly neglected composer truly shines. His writing has much of the same textural sophistication and melodic beauty as his close friend, Tchaikovsky. In fact, the theme on which the Second Quartet's Variations are based is drawn from a Tchaikovsky quartet. Performing Arensky's First and Second string quartets, along with the Piano Quintet, is the Ying Quartet. This ensemble's playing is characterized by a surprisingly precise, consistent uniformity of sound and exactness of articulation, making it seem as if a single instrument were playing as opposed to four independent parts. All aspects of their technical execution are polished and refined, which only enhances their equally enjoyable musical effusiveness, rich, deep tone, and understanding of Arensky's scores that casts them in the best possible light.
Dmitri Kabalevsky's music can be flippant, dramatic, ruminative or 'functional'; it can also be rhythmically and texturally complex (parts of the Second Quartet presented on this CD), or tuneful and primary-coloured (Third Piano Concerto and The Comedians ballet). And yet Kabalevsky has remained, at least for many Western listeners, something of a musical side-liner, a sort of soft-core Shostakovich whose very amiability vitiates against a more 'serious' reputation.
GRAMOPHONE Magazine Editor's Choice - October 2015.The Artemis Quartet pairs Brahms’ intense first quartet with his lighter-spirited third quartet, both works that the Artemis’ cellist, Eckart Runge, describes as “remarkable and multi-faceted”. He says that “Brahms marries a Romantic spirit with the structure and forms of Classicism. There is an almost symphonic approach in the writing, but at the same time the quartets are imbued with a sense of warmth, immediacy, friendship and love that is interwoven with a more spiritual, timeless beauty”.
Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.