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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Belcea Quartet
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

String Quartet in A minor D.804 ‘Rosamunde’ (1824) [36.51]
Quartetsatz in C minor D.703 (1820) [9.32]
String Quartet in Eb D.87 (1813) [26.37]
Belcea Quartet
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk in July 2002
EMI CLASSICS DEBUT SERIES 7243 5 57419 2 9 [73.19]


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An overview of Schubert as a writer of string quartets is provided by the Belcea’s commendably imaginative combination for this debut CD for EMI. The composer was a youth of sixteen when he wrote the final quartet they play, and (given his short life of 31 years) comparatively old at 23 and 27 for the other two. Both the A minor quartet and the quartet-movement (which is probably the most familiar work here) are fairly subdued affairs, indeed it is only when we get to the final pair of tracks on the disc that the mood perks up with sprightly, bright speeds and relatively cheerful musical material. That being said, the music is profound, almost symphonic in both structure and texture, with no more than a passing nod at his great predecessors or contemporaries, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (Schubert was even younger at thirteen when he tackled his first string quartet). For all the right reasons no doubt, the Belcea Quartet sometimes plays with an excessively exaggerated feel for phrasing, with too much shaping away from the natural stress on the first note followed by the so-called feminine ending. Yet their sense of tension and drama, often achieved through disciplined control of quiet dynamics (Track 3: 1’44"), produces extraordinary results. So too are the magical moments in these glorious works, for example the effortlessly smooth and melting transition from minor to major in the opening movement of the A minor quartet (Track 1: 10’ 12").

The group has an immaculate sense of balance (invidious though it may seem to single out any one member, the viola playing is exemplary), and energetic drive in the accompanying middle textures (at for example the start of Track 9), whilst the grace and wit they bring to the scherzo of the Eb quartet achieves a fine unanimity of ensemble which fair takes one’s breath away. Occasional harshness of tone and dead ambience at pauses or ends of movements notwithstanding, this is an agreeable programme devised by a string quartet to look out for.

Christopher Fifield

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