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
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.
see also Review
by Michael Cookson