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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.14 in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’, D.810 [41:58]
String Quartet No.12 in C minor, D.703 ‘Quartettsatz’ [10:29]
Quatuor Schäffer
rec. 1958, Schola Cantorum, Paris

With next to nothing on the internet of information regarding this ensemble, I've had to rely on the brief paragraph on the back tray of the CD provided by Forgotten Records. The first violinist Kurt Schäffer was a professor in Salzburg and Düsseldorf. Second violinist Franzjosef Maier played an important role in the musical life of Cologne and founded the ensemble Aureum Collegium. Franz Beyer was lead viola in the Chamber Orchestra of Stuttgart and played in the Strub Quartet.  He also taught in Cologne and Düsseldorf, as did cellist Kurt Herzbruch. How long the ensemble functioned, I couldn’t ascertain

In the Death and the Maiden the Quatuor Schäffer achieves dramatic impact from the start with fortissimo unisons. The savagery grabs you by the scruff of the neck. Throughout the movement they surf the shifting moods with a true sense of direction, and dynamic contrasts are strictly observed. They don't observe the exposition repeats, a drawback in my view. The work gets its subtitle from the composer's song Death and the Maiden, and this serves as the theme of the slow movement, which undergoes the variation treatment. The hushed intensity by which the movement opens works well in creating an atmosphere of serenity, important in providing balm when the other movements traverse the paths of unremitting tension. Then comes a Scherzo, a tarantella which, in the Schäffer's hands, is both wild and mocking. The finale is a stormy Presto, and the performance bristles with nervous energy.

Intensity and urgency are the hallmarks of the performance of the Quartettsatz, where tension is maintained throughout. The Quatuor Schäffer sound fiery and determined and this helps profile the beguiling second melody when it appears. Similar qualities are found in the Amadeus Quartet's recording, which I grew up with.

Recorded in mid-October 1958, the ambience of the Schola Cantorum, Paris confers the intimacy this music deserves. The mono LP (no stereo exists) Resonances RES 22, from which this transfer is taken, is a fine, clean and quiet copy.

Stephen Greenbank

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