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The New Quartets

April 5, 2010

An article in a recent issue of the Gramophone highlighted that there is a new generation of string quartet ensembles that are releasing CDs and carving out their reputations.  Oddly enough, when I delved into this a little further, I found out that it takes a long time to get established as a “young” quartet, with a number of the ensembles having formed more than 10 years ago. When I started looking into this a little further I realised that many active string quartet ensembles have been going for well over 60 years.  The Borodin Quartet, who toured NZ last month, first formed in 1945.   Even “modern” and modernist ensembles such as the Kronos Quartet have been in existence for over 35 years, having formed in 1973.

My take from this is that string quartets are more like orchestras than bands, and survive changes in personnel, so that there is every chance that a number of the new generation of quartet ensembles will still be around in another 10 to 20 years, performing music to a high standard.  So in the show for this week I’m going to showcase the work of a number of  modern quartet ensembles who’ve been in existence for a mere 20 years or less. 

A quick bio of the quartets features on the show.

The Pavel Haas Quartet is a Czech string quartet founded in 2002.  The quartet is named after the Czech composer Pavel Haas (1899–1944), who was deported from Czechoslovakia in 1941, initially imprisoned at the work camp Terezin, and finally died at Auschwitz.   Their first album of the second quartets of Haas and Janáček won the 2007 Gramophone Award for Chamber music.

The NZSQ are the oldest ensemble featured today, having formed in 1987.  Only the viola player is from the 1987 line up though, the other 3 having joined in 1994.  Interestingly the 2 new members were not from NZ but came from Canada and the US biut have since become NZ citizens. 

The Doric qt Formed in 1998 at The National School for Young Chamber Music Players, in Suffolk. They’ve worked with members of the Alban Berg, Artemis, Hagen and LaSalle Quartets and with Gyorgy Kurtag.  Their first commercial CD is a live recording of their Haydn concerts at Wigmore Hall in 2009.

Founded in 1994, the Zehetmair Quartet have gained international prominence and critical acclaim for its vigorous and  imaginative performances of the string quartet repertoire.   They play by memory – even when recording. 

The Jerusalem Quartet formed in 1997 and have released a very good CD of Haydn qts and another of Dvorak. 

The Smith Quartet is a UK based quartet founded in 1988 that specializes in the performance of contemporary music.

The French Ébène Quartet formed in 1999, and their 2009 CD of the quartets of Debussy, Ravel and Faure won the Gramaphone Record of the Year.  

The Belcea Qt, formed in 94 are one of my fav qts and have some award winning recordings of the complete Bartok  and Britten qts. Like the ebene they also recorded an award winning CD coupling of the debussy and ravel, which I prefer to the Ebene CD.  

The Mandelring Qt, formed in 1988 are less well known but they have just finished recording the complete Shostakovich quartet cycle which is regarded on a par with some of the great Shostakovich cycles by the Borodin and others.

Two of my favourite things together, Tom Waits and a string quartet (Kronos)


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