> Franz Schubert - Complete String Quartets [MC]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.1 in C minor / B flat major, D.18 (circa. 1810-11) [16:06]
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D. 46 (1813) [22.36]
String Quartet No. 8 in B flat major, D.112, Op.168 ( 1814) [25:49]
Kodaly Quartet
Recorded in the Unitarian Church, Budapest, Hungary. 11th to 14th December 2000. DDD
Complete String Quartets, Vol. 4
NAXOS 8.555921 [64:31]


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Not having ever heard the first and fourth of Schubertís fifteen string quartets it was a great pleasure to find them both on this Vol.4 release from Naxos of Schubertís complete string quartets. The three quartets featured on this recording are very early works; two of which were composed when Schubert was a schoolboy. Chamber music was an integral part of the young Schubertís life and it is little surprise that he should become so skilled in this area. As a boy Schubert was both a pianist and a viola player who formed part of the family quartet together with his cello playing father and his two elder brothers who played the violin.

In spite of Schubertís youth at the time of their composition these are clearly very accomplished chamber works and eminently treasurable. The influence of the great chamber works by Schubertís predecessors Haydn, Mozart and his older contemporary Beethoven is apparent together with a preview of the emotional turmoil which is so characteristic of his mature compositions.

Music writer David Ewan feels that Schubert was influenced most of all by Beethoven. "The deepening of the poetic content in his music, and the seeking out of new ways to extend musicís expressiveness, motivated Schubert from his very beginnings. One of the reasons why his structure and modulation are so clumsy in the early years was because he was trying to emulate Beethoven without possessing the necessary know-how."

Clearly with these three early quartets the youthful Schubert was still learning his trade. The earliest quartet the D.18 is an uneven composition in many respects particularly in its choice of keys. The first movement Andante ma non troppo is wonderfully played by the Kodaly and the very fine Menuetto leaves the listener wanting more. It is worth noting that the timing in the booklet notes incorrectly states the fourth movement Presto as 9:12 instead of 4:09. In the C major D.46 quartet we can see the evidence of Schubertís developing confidence and growing individuality. Particularly impressive is the splendid interpretation of the rather unsettling and agitated opening movement Allegro con moto which follows the short adagio. The later B-flat major quartet D.112 which is said to have been composed in only eight days, arguably has too little variety in the form but is full of youthful exuberance and marks a new advance for Schubert as a composer. The Mozartian second movement Andante sostenuto is extremely lyrical and beautiful. The Kodalyís sympathetic and restrained playing in the Andante sostenuto is perhaps the highlight of the whole quartet and their courtly and elegant playing in the third movement Menuetto also deserves praise.

As demonstrated so admirably on this release the predominant feature of Schubertís music was always melody. David Ewan considers Schubert to be the greatest melodist of all time stating that, "he could mould lyricism at will for every possible emotion or effect Ö In symphonies, sonatas, and quartets he could compound one beautiful melody on another with the most incredible profusion."

The Kodaly Quartet play with exemplary precision across all the three quartets in a persuasive manner that is extremely consistent. They display an assured affinity for this repertoire and their engaging performances will not disappoint any listener. These are energetic and vigorous accounts of the quartets but never volatile and undisciplined.

There is much to admire here as the foursome integrate perfectly as a team. Their playing is full bodied and vigorous when necessary, with a restrained sensitivity without any temptation to wear their hearts on their sleeves in Schubertís expressive and poetic passages. The Kodaly provide a very appealing, even handsome, sound that shows respect for the music without any hint of being sugary or too delicate as if they were handling a fragile porcelain figurine.

I have heard the previous three volumes of this Naxos series of the Schubert quartets and this is by far the superior. There is a truthful and fresh sound to this well-balanced recording when combined with such fine performances as these makes this release eminently recommendable.

Michael Cookson

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