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Franz SCHUBERT (1797–1828)
Complete String Quartets Vol. 6

String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887, Op. 161 (1826) [45:10]
Five Deutsche Tänze (German Dances) with Coda and Seven Trios for String Quartet, D. 90 (1813) [14:26]
Kodály Quartet
rec. Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, 16 April, 17-19 June 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.557125 [59:34]

The Kodály Quartet have released volume 6 in their Naxos cycle of the complete string quartets of Schubert. The final release in this much-praised series features the String Quartet No.15 that was composed towards the end of Schubert’s life when his health was in decline. Also included are the Five German Dances with Seven Trios and a Coda, D. 90 - a product of his mid-teenage years.

The Kodály’s now-complete Schubert cycle joins their previously released sets of the complete quartets of Haydn and Beethoven. Both gained excellent reviews for the Hungarian ensemble’s intelligent and stylistic interpretations; especially the critically acclaimed and award-winning Haydn set. Tantalisingly, I am informed that next on the Kodály’s recording schedule for Naxos are the Octets of Mendelssohn and Bruch (the German composer’s last work from 1920, which was only published and premiered in 1996). The set is due for release in June 2006.

String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887, Op. 161 (1826)

Schubert’s prolific output comprised mainly hundreds of songs but also included fifteen string quartets. The No. 15, D. 887 was composed in eight days in June 1826. Schubert was to only publish one of his last four quartets during his lifetime. D887 was published posthumously in 1851. Although nowhere near as famous and far less frequently recorded than its more celebrated close predecessor the Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’, the G major is no less remarkable. Schubert biographer R.H. Schauffler remarks on several key features, notably the forward-looking modernity that surpasses even that of the ‘Death and the Maiden’, the rhapsodic quality of certain themes, the characteristic variation between major and minor and a more marked orchestral ‘signature’.

The Kodály are intense and incisive in the opening movement Allegro. In the sorrowful outpouring of the Andante they offer a reading of expressive emotional power. With the dynamic thrusts and rhythmic vitality of the Scherzo I would have preferred a touch more bite. In the closing movement Allegro the Kodály are highly controlled and offer just the right amount of forward momentum.

As an alternative the Lindsay Quartet provide a marvellously phrased and attractively characterful interpretation of the G major. I found their reading enthralling throughout. The work is available as part of a four disc box set on Sanctuary Classics Resonance RSB 403. My preferred version however is the wonderfully expressive account from the Italian Quartet from 1977 on Philips 446 163-2. This has few peers.

Five Deutsche Tänze (German Dances) with Coda and Seven Trios for String Quartet, D. 90 (1813)

The release is rounded-out with the Five German Dances together with a similar number of Minuets that Schubert wrote in 1813, aged sixteen. The Five German Dances retain a joyful simplicity and the flavour of a Schubertiade. In this infrequently recorded score the Kodálys are hugely impressive performing with self-assurance and considerable vitality. In addition to this fine account from Kodálys, the spirited version from the Leipzig String Quartet on MDG 307 0604-2 c/w D. 810 Death and the Maiden is also worthy of consideration.

The annotation is as excellent as we have come to expect from Keith Anderson and the sound quality is up to the usual Naxos standard.

Not my first choice version of the String Quartet No. 15 but these well performed and recorded accounts are certainly worth collecting and they provide a worthy conclusion to this successful Naxos series.

Michael Cookson


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