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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Complete String Quartets
Diogenes Quartet (Stefan Kirpal (violin),
Gundula Kirpal (violin),
Julia Barthel (viola, CDs 1-2),
Alba González I Becerra (viola),
Stephen Ristau (cello)
rec. Himmelfahrtskirche, München-Sendling, Germany, 2012-2015 BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94468 [7 CDs: 470:38]
We seem to be living in a something of a golden age for excellent string quartets, and the German-based Diogenes Quartet are no exception. Their playing is precise but with flexibility and sensitivity to this wonderful music. They are helped by the splendid acoustic of the Church of the Ascension in München-Sendling, where the recordings were made. One of the joys of the recording is how each of the four strands is so clear and yet so well-blended.
One of the problems with Schubert is that the overwhelming genius of the later quartets tends to outshine the many excellences of the earlier ones, many of which receive few public performances. Earlier quartets were largely products of Schubert’s precocious teenage years – and the signs of what would be to come are clearly present.
A strength of this set is its completeness. It was compiled from previously issued performances which (rightly) have received excellent reviews. The fine Melos Quartet set from 1973 on 6 discs, now available as a DG Collectors Edition (DG 463 – 151-2), contains none of the shorter pieces found here. The various dances are delightful – but when is Schubert not? A few of the extras, such as the Overture D470, are a little speculative. Schubert produced it in both orchestral and chamber form, and only a short central section for string quartet is extant. What we have here is a reconstruction from the orchestral parts. But the urge for completeness brings so many bonuses. We know well String Quartet No 12, D703, from 1820, the single movement we know as Quartettsatz. This is played splendidly here. But then we have the remaining fragment, less than four minutes, of what would have been the andante second movement: lovely music tantalisingly cut off.
Another bonus is that the late works are interspersed with the earlier, throughout the set. We are able to hear on each disc something of the development in Schubert’s work, and when, as here, there is nothing perfunctory, when there are fresh insights in every piece, then there are so many moments of bliss.
For me, a good test of quality is the long D887 quartet of 1826. When I first heard this recording, I was conscious that the playing was a touch more deliberate, and a little less fleet, that the comparator I was using, which was from the Lindsay Quartet’s set of Late Quartets (CD RSB 403). But I quickly put comparisons aside. Each way has its own felicities, each draws attention to different aspects of this masterpiece. It is good to be reminded that great music does not have one right interpretation. Great music is just so, because it is an inexhaustible resource of insights. Listening to this, I heard aspects and was touched in ways I had not been before.
For less than £20, this is an extraordinary bargain. There is nothing cheap about either the production values (an excellent and informative booklet), the recording, or the quality of the performances. This belongs with the very best.
Michael Wilkinson Contents CD1 [63.16]
String Quartet in D D 94 [21.03]
Andante in C D3 (Fragment completed Christian Starke) [4.15]
String Quartet in A minor D804 ‘Rosamunde’ [37.53]
CD 2 [59.26]
Overture in B flat. (Fragment completed Christian Starke) D470 [6.19]
String Quartet in B Flat D112 [31.38]
String Quartet in A minor D.804 ‘Rosamunde’ [37.53]
CD 3 [74.20]
String Quartet in G minor/ B flat D18 [17.10]
5 Menuets & 5 German Dances D 89 [18.01]
String Quartet in B flat D68 [18.02]
5 Menuets and 5 German Dances D 89 (two later versions) [8.50]
CD 4 [71.04]
String Quartet in D minor D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’ [44.50]
String Quartet in D D74 [24.20]
Minuet in D D86 [1.48]
String Quartet in C D46 [23.17]
Overture in C minor D8a [9.06]
String Quartet in E flat D87 [25.33]
String Quartet in C minor D703 [13.06]
CD 6 [67.00]
String Quartet in C D32 [19.58]
String Quartet in B flat D36 [24.32]
String Quartet in G minor D173 [22.21]
String Quartet in G D887 [53.38]
Movement for String Quartet in C minor D103 (Fragment completed Christian Starke) [10.39]