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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartets: No. 14 in D minor, D810, ‘Der Tod und das Madchen’ (1824) [39’13]; No. 10 in E flat, D87 (1813) [21’43]
Yggdrasil String Quartet (Fredrik Paulsson, Per Öman, violins; Robert Westlund, viola; Per Nyström, cello)
Rec. Nybrokajen 11, Stockholm, Sweden in December 2000. DDD
BIS CD1201 [61’37]

Formed in 1990, the Swedish Yggdrasil Quartet has already built up a varied discography, ranging from the music of Jon Leifs (CD691) to Berwald’s complete string quartets (CD759) and Shostakovich (Quartets Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 8 are on CD913). Here it turns its talents to Schubert, and it is the freshness of the interpretations which impresses on this showing.

Quartets Nos. 10 and 14 seem to make a particularly satisfying coupling on disc, and the Yggdrasil are not alone in thinking this: the Alban Berg Quartet on EMI (CDC5 56470-2), the Talich Quartet (Calliope CAL9234) and the Henschel Quartet (Arte Nova 74321 59220-2) all agree on the effectiveness of this pairing.

The Tenth Quartet (1813), here placed second in the running order, is generally successful. The fist movement emerges as an entertaining and gentle diversion, but nevertheless a determined element underpins the whole on this occasion. The Quartet’s sound is rich within pianissimo at the opening, chords and textures are carefully balanced throughout and the recording is clear but not overly-analytical (but do I detect an edit at 5’38?). The tiny scherzo (1’40!) brings remarkable quirky appoggiaturas contrasting with a scurrying, throw-away Trio. The Adagio is sweetly-singing (although some chord balances seem to throw too much emphasis onto inner voices); the finale is busy, light and full of energy (interestingly, the quartet opts to omit the repeat prescribed in my score).

With D810, the field of competition widens, as do the emotional demands (is this why there is more audible breathing/sniffing in this piece?). Technical difficulties mean little or nothing to the Yggdrasil, and there are some impressive moments. But they seem not to grasp the overall structure, so that there is a loss of intensity at a crucial juncture (9’58, first movement). Here the closeness of the recording intrudes upon the listening experience, also.

It would appear that most rehearsal time went into the famous set of variations which gives the quartet its nickname. Much thought went into balance and dynamics (there is an especially good ppp towards the end). Cellist Per Nyström brings out his best cantabile for the occasion, and there is some truly delicate playing.

The Scherzo is rhythmically buoyant, if not as innerly energised as it could be, but the finale is taken at the Presto indicated.

Taken as a whole, this makes a rewarding hour’s listening without knocking the giants off their pedastals in D810 (try the Alban Berg Quartet or the Busch Quartet, for example).

Colin Clarke

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