String Quartet in A minor, D804 (Rosamunde)
String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden)
Takács Quartet [Edward Dusinberre & Károly Schranz (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola) & András Fejér (cello)]
Recorded 22-25 May 2006 in St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
CD No: HYPERION CDA67585 Duration: 69 minutes Reviewed: September 2006
Takács Quartet – Schubert
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
The Takács Quartet is a prolific and prestigious recording ensemble; after recordings of Beethoven and Bartók for Decca, the group is now recording for Hyperion, and future plans include Brahms’s quartets and Piano Quintet, the latter with Stephen Hough, and works by Janáček and Schumann.
This debut release is of two of Schubert’s best-known string quartets, both written in 1824, and begins with ‘Death and the Maiden’. The first movement is lithe and propulsive, and the timbres are lucid; this is Schubert played without indulgence – classical – but there is also a real feeling for what lies within the music. How well the Takács turn the end of the first movement onto its dark side (and how convincing is the musicians’ decision to not observe the exposition repeat). Such compactness and turn-around seems to lead naturally to the blanched, inward tones of the slow movement, which is based on Schubert’s nickname-giving song. Initially the Takács Quartet stare mortality in the face and then make much of the contrasting variations that follow; there is much admirable playing – the timbres are lucid, well-balanced and with a clarity of the parts that is illuminating. The players reveal sweet expression amidst the melancholy, something consoling, and then find a nervous intensity for the succeeding scherzo. The mix of drive and precision for the finale seems at first rather ‘lightweight’ – but such impressions are false, for as the movement develops the ‘grim reaper’ seems ever-more by the musicians’ side and therefore part of Schubert’s design.
The ‘Rosamunde’ quartet follows. For numerous reasons it should have opened the CD, not least to allow Schubert’s engagement with death to be better charted. This earlier work (another reason) has a bittersweet quality, one that the Takács Quartet capture beautifully in a performance eloquently expressive, lyrically turned and with an appreciation of shadows lurking. This time the group observe the first movement repeat, and make it inevitable. The ‘Rosamunde’ music that opens the second movement is played with grace and eloquently sustained. The Minuet (rather than a scherzo) has a courtly stance, and the Takács find a burden here that is very effective in its intimacy and dirge-like approach. The finale has suggestions of playfulness, the pacing and expression unforced, and with more than a glance backwards to Haydn and Mozart, yet with a tension developing in the latter stages that reminds that all is not well.
This is superb quartet-playing, the quality of which becomes even more formidable over several listens; a marriage of individual skill, corporate responsiveness and searching musicianship. Another feature is the recording; this is how a string quartet should be captured – the feeling of being in the same space as the musicians but not being intimidated by them; immediacy and space is ideal here, so too the tonal faithfulness of the instruments, singly and in consort. The effect of four musicians working as a unit and finding so much in the music is palpable. The latest stage of the Takács Quartet’s career has got off to a very impressive start.