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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor D.810 Death and the
Maiden (1824) [33:06];
String Quartet No. 15 in G major D.887 (1826) [39:58]
(Adolf Busch; Gösta Andreasson (violins);
Karl Doktor (viola); Hermann Busch, (cello))
rec. 16 October 1936 (D.810); 22, 30 November 1938, Studio
3, Abbey Road, London (D.887). ADD MONO. EMI CLASSICS GREAT
RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3615882 [73.33]
what I can add to the comments that have been lavished on
these recordings over the years, I do not really know. I
can merely affirm that these are readings worthy of their “Great
Recordings” labelling. Anyone seriously interested in Schubert
string quartets should have this disc in their collection.
course, not all old recordings are worth listening. Their
inferior sound quality, of course, counts against them. But
then again some modern recordings are compromised by the
exactness of their sound, which fails to capture the ambience
along with the musical notes.
vintage EMI recordings offer plenty of atmosphere, and I
am grateful that Andrew Walter’s remastering has preserved
a touch of hiss from the originals that can be heard if one
turns up the volume.
the D.810 quartet, the sound balance is near ideal in capturing
the group’s rich and sonorous bass line, mellow alto and
variously soft and incisively sharp violin parts. The opening
Allegro has a natural rhythmic flow with the work’s dramatic
façade established from the first. As Tully Potter comments
in his excellent accompanying notes this is music of “heroic
scale and […] anger” that was “largely overlooked by a public
fed on the image of the composer as a happy-go-lucky Biedermeier
figure”. Listen, for example, how the Busch quartet bring
out the Allegro’s crucial point of angst at around ten minutes
into the movement. It not only seems rightly called for,
but a consequence of all that has gone before.
long-breathed Andante con moto benefits immeasurably
from the unforced dynamics and interplay of the four players.
There may be tiny moments of suspect intonation that creep
into the performance. Given that these recordings come from
an era that regarded such things as negligible it is rather
our problem if we cannot adjust to and accept this aspect
as part of the whole experience. Only when playing at a real forte do
the instruments sound crowded, otherwise their tone is delicately
preserved. This is a testament to the wide range of dynamics
brought to the work under Adolf Busch’s guidance.
scherzo and trio is unusually brief, given that most repeats
were omitted. These would have required a fifth side of a
78rpm record when originally released. What there is of it
is finely played, and forms an effective contrast to the
closing presto tarantella, which receives a performance
of real strength with self-propelling drive.
drama contained within the D.887 quartet is evident from
the rhythmic angularity of the Allegro molto moderato’s
opening pages, and much of the hesitancy that can be felt
thereafter. The Busch quartet live and convey the range of
emotions in this music like no other quartet I have ever
encountered or am ever likely to experience. On one level
it could be tempting to read into their nervous and lacerating
energy much about the mood of the late 1930s, when the work
was recorded by a quartet at its artistic peak. That said
this factor does not deepen one’s knowledge of Schubert much,
if at all. There is little doubt though that Schubert’s music
benefits from the tension with which the Busch quartet invest
it. More so than the finale of D.810, this quartet is one
that must be driven in approach – even in supposedly more
relaxed passages – but always with an ear for structure and
sonority. Tragedy and agony are two qualities Tully Potter
identifies in the second movement particularly, but I would
add humanity also. There is nothing brash or barbaric about
either the quartet’s conception or playing here. Indeed,
if one needed a single movement to pinpoint the group’s quality,
I would choose this one. The cello line is a full and firm
foundation; the alto builds naturally upon it whilst the
violins do not over-dominate proceedings.
Scherzo, as the Busch quartet plays it, is a model of Viennese
style. It’s welcome to hear more of the movement, particularly
the immensely lyrical trio section, taken at a real Allegretto tempo – not
always an easy one to judge. The closing Allegro assai is
full of instrumental exchanges that show just how fine the
Busch quartet were at responding to their own playing within
the group. Many a quartet today could learn from their example.
Their feeling for the music is unsurpassed nearly seventy
years after it was recorded.
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