Firstly a caveat. Too many of the Sony Essential Classics carry
minimal or non-existent recording details. The provenance therefore of
this double set, mired in the well-worn small type phrase "consists
of previously released material" is a little murky – so I’m forced
to guess 1980-83. [see footnote]
Listening recently to a performance of Death and the
Maiden by the Calvet Quartet, a recording made in the 1930s, one of
beautiful tone and heavily restrained dramatic outline, forced consideration
as to the changing nature of Schubert Quartet interpretation over the
last eighty years. From a kind of nuanced sweetness to outsize, almost
schizophrenic violence the Quartets have absorbed all interpretations.
If performances have become increasingly more visceral over the decades
then it can fairly be said that the Juilliard stand centrally in the
tradition of elevated Schubert players. They are tonally warm, structurally
cogent, dramatic without melodrama, and lyrical without becoming sentimental.
They are especially good in the Quartettsatz, so often taken for granted,
and in the Rosamunde Quartet here, due to timing exigencies, regrettably
split between the two CDs. The big G Major receives a commensurately
big performance lasting forty-four minutes – and not sounding it, so
agile are the rhythmic subtleties, so understanding the playing.
The affecting simplicity of the opening of Death and
the Maiden – note Samuel Rhodes’ energetically incisive viola – is a
great pleasure as is the unease and coalescing confidence of the second
movement. The Juilliard manage to convey strata of depth by the most
simple and elegant of means and if this is not a performance to rank
with the greatest – amongst whom still sits the Busch – then it must
take an honoured and worthy place amongst the finer performances committed
to disc. Sound quality is good and notes to the point.
Footnote from Martin Walker
I don't know for sure about "Death
& the Maiden",which was certainly around as an LP in the early
70s, but the A minor & the G major, which have long been available
in Germany both as LP & CD, were recorded in 1962, not the 80s,
unless the Juillards made another later recording of the Schubert quartets,
which I doubt.