The internationally acclaimed and youthful French Quatuor Diotima can be heard featuring the works of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg in the highly unusual musical combination of string quartet with voice. The first of these works, Arnold Schoenberg's Quartet no. 2 in f sharp minor, Opus 10, was partly composed in 1907 and completed in 1908. Two poems of the German Stefan George, are presented in music as third and fourth movements: Litanei (Litany) and Entrückung (Transport) with French soprano Sandrine Piau.
Schoenberg composed this quartet during an emotionally turbulent period in his life. Though the work bears the dedication "to my wife", it was written during Mathilde Schoenberg's affair with close personal friend and artist Richard Gerstl. The Second Quartet displays the extended tonality of the late Romantic period; it captivates and challenges the listener by exhibiting startling contrasts of mood and character. One begins to wonder what, exactly, is unleashed in Schoenberg's psyche by the words "I feel the air of another planet" which is the pensive introduction to the fourth and final movement. Could it have been that Schoenberg felt himself being pulled away from this plane of existence to another sphere? Or was he communicating the release of a wounded marital relationship? The performance by Quatuor Diotima and soprano Sandrine Piau renders this work with supra-natural beauty.
The second work on the disc features the "Six Bagatelles" of Anton Webern (1883-1945) but with an additional movement for contralto and strings, as sung here compellingly by Marie-Nicole Lemieux, first prize winner of the 2000 Queen Elizabeth International Competition. The seventh Bagatelle had remained unpublished until twenty years after Webern's death. In an introduction that appeared in the published score of the Six Bagatelles in 1924, Schoenberg wrote of his student: "To express a novel in a single gesture, a joy in a breath—such concentration can only be present in the absence of self-pity". Webern embraced the solitary journey of exploration; the lone path; many of his works remained unperformed during his life. Quatuor Diotima captures the high-octane intensity, the outbursts, stifled cries, and suffocating moments of bereavement which permeate the score.
The third composition offered is Alban Berg's "Lyric Suite". The work's unusual six movement structure may be compared with the "Lyric Symphony" of Zemlinsky, to whom the work is dedicated. In 1977 a miniature score of the Lyric Suite was discovered, annotated in the composer's hand, with the inclusion of a vocal line in the final Largo Desolato, a setting of a German translation by Stefan George of Baudelaire's poem De Profundis. Though there is no evidence that Berg intended for this vocal line to have been performed—or was this, perhaps, the original version—one can rationally surmise that Schoenberg's Second Quartet, whose last movements contain settings of poems by George, must have been Berg's model.
Quatuor Diotima possesses a rich palette of dazzling and muted colors. The use of vibrato by all members in the ensemble is used sparingly and calibrated to meet the demands of the sudden mood shifts. Ever since its inception, the quartet has made international appearances which have taken them to the most prestigious festivals. They are one of France's national treasures.
Tha Quatuor Diotima records classical music repertoire exclusively for Naïve.