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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet in G major, D.887 (1826) [45.10]
Five German Dances, D.90 (1813) [14.26]
Kodály String Quartet
rec 16 April 2002 (Dances), 17-19 June 2002 (Quartet), Phoenix Studio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.557125 [59.36]


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Schubert composed his final string quartet during 1826, and it appropriate that this masterpiece should be positioned at the threshold of his wonderful last phase. Yet he was still in his twenties when he wrote it. The G major Quartet is wholly original in style, in its adaptation of the tradition of the Viennese classical style inherited from Haydn and Mozart. Moreover the music has an ambition and spirituality which link its outlook to that of the late Beethoven quartets with which it is contemporary. 

If this is one of the finest examples of Schubert’s mastery as a composer of chamber music, so too the performance of the Kodály Quartet is a fine example of interpretation and performances. Aided by one of the best and most ambient recordings to have come from the Naxos Budapest connection, this splendid disc can be recommended with the utmost enthusiasm.

The G major Quartet is an ambitious piece, not least because it boldly occupies a span of some 45 minutes, as an example of Schubert’s ‘Heavenly length’. This clearly puts demands upon the performers in terms of sustaining interest through the quality and intensity of their playing, and these demands are triumphantly met.

The slow movement alternates between peace and turmoil, and the balance within the single construction is achieved through transitions which are most effectively handled. The shadings of dynamic are crucial throughout, and the recording allows these to be satisfactorily made, without any unnatural emphasis or changes of focus.

The outer sections of the scherzo third movement have a lightness of touch that suggests Mendelssohn, for this is true ‘fairy music’. If the central trio, with its peasant ländler music, is less inspired, it does serve as a useful foil. The dance characteristic carries over into the finale, in which the Kodály players infuse the lively tarantella rhythm with the sparkle and wit of opera buffa.

This G major String Quartet was the last such piece that Schubert composed. It is much less well known than the A minor (Rosamunde) and D minor (Death and the Maiden) Quartets, probably because it lacks a catchy title, but also because it does make considerable demands upon the performers. Those demands are well met here, in this triumphant performance by the Kodály Quartet.

At the opposite extreme of Schubert’s career in chamber music lie the German Dances of 1813. He was but sixteen when he composed them, and they therefore reflect his reliance on the prevailing tradition of Viennese dance music. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and anyone who enjoys, say, the delights of Mozart’s dance music - and who would not? - will surely enjoy these engaging dances by the young Schubert; and they are beautifully played, too.

Terry Barfoot

see also Review by Michael Cookson 





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