> Franz Schubert - String Quartets Nos. 12 - 15 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quartet No 12 in C Minor D703 Quartettsatz (1820)
Quartet No 13 in A Minor D804 Rosamunde
Quartet No 14 in D Minor D810 Death and the Maiden (1826)
Quartet No 15 in G Minor D887 (1826)
Juilliard String Quartet
No Recording dates or locations provided
SONY SB2K89978 [2 CDs 66.42 and 67.25]


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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.

Jonathan Woolf

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.

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