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Brilliant Classics

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
The Great String Quartets

String Quartet in A minor D804 Rosamunde
String Quartet in D minor D810 Death and the Maiden
String Quartet in G minor D887
Quartettsatz in C minor D703
Brandis Quartet
Recorded 1995
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92288 [78.35 + 52.45]

It’s good to see that the Brandis Quartet’s Schubert (ex-Nimbus) is once more available, scooped up by the alert Brilliant Classics team. Housed in a two CD box set it makes for thoroughly engaged and attractive listening: technically and instrumentally operating on a high level of eloquence and managing to find convincing solutions to myriad and complex interpretative issues. The care over corporate dynamics is heard as early as the Allegro ma non troppo of the A minor and the warmth they cultivate, at acutely judged tempi can be heard in the same quartet’s finale. Of especial interest is the palpable concern they evince for properly projecting inner voicings. All too frequently the viola part and the running passages of, say, the first movement of Death and the Maiden are obliterated by a torrent of heavily bowed power. Here however details register with clarity – those propulsive, tensile passages that animate this movement are perfectly audible.

The fluency and technical address are certainly formidable here and throughout – sample the slow section of the Allegro of the G minor Quartet with its interiorised playing and light, wristy bowing. Or the way the quartet deal with the demands of the slow movement, a difficult one successfully to cohere, not forgetting the delightful way they have with the trio of the Scherzo. But I do have reservations and these centre principally on a certain lack of passion. It would not be fair to characterise the performances either as urbane or as aloof – not at all – but their clarity and precision argue for a more reserved and less intimately visceral Schubert. Their scrupulousness in the finale of Death and the Maiden tends to diffuse the work’s grandeur and the classicist direction they take in the slow movement can also act against the full implications of the writing. Certainly many will admire this restraint; others may well find it rather too short of fire.

The recordings do tend to spread slightly, though not disastrously. There is an unwelcome degree of lower string cello boom that’s clearly not Wolfgang Boettcher’s fault. Otherwise this is a good recommendation for those wanting a dignified, not cold, but relatively cool set of these works.

Jonathan Woolf

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