Kuss Quartet – Schubert & Berg [Onyx]

0 of 5 stars

String Quartet in G, D887
String Quartet, Op.3

Kuss Quartet [Jana Kuss & Oliver Wille (violins), William Coleman (viola) & Mikayel Hakhnazaryan (cello)]

Recorded June, July & August 2010 in Siemens-Villa, Berlin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2011
CD No: ONYX 4066
Duration: 74 minutes



The Berlin-based Kuss Quartet look deeply into Schubert’s final string quartet, composed during a white-hot ten-day period of creativity, finding well its emotional turbulence, exploration and orchestral sonorities; there is plenty of refinement, too, as well meaningful concern for dynamic contrasts and a very healthy interaction between the quartet’s members. The work is a big (53 minutes in this performance) and challenging listen, at times fragile, at others bursting at the seams, and holding the attention through eerie tremolos while remaining fascinating for its echt-Viennese aspects from which merge forward-looking harmonies (making its coupling to Alban Berg’s sole string quartet very apt).

Another success of the Kuss Quartet’s account is the musicians’ expressive approach; without sacrificing the boldness of the music they also ensure a certain privacy, which befits chamber music, and at its most intimate in the slow movement, which is both elegiac and consoling, and also moves to another realm of consciousness (if not without its own storms) and which offsets the tense impulses of the large-scale first movement, here made relatively gigantic by the observation of the exposition repeat; in doing so, the players are of course following Schubert’s instructions, however formal, but reprising six minutes or so of music may be a luxury too far, especially as this portion of the score seems to be always going forward rather than seeking a return to the first page. For the scurrying scherzo Schubert seems to look-back to his revered Beethoven for inspiration, the music very well pointed by the Kuss members. The finale revisits the driven and conflicting avenues (cul-de-sacs, maybe) of the first movement, Viennese inflections countered by worldly-wise and haunted passions, although the musicians are just a little mannered at times, and maybe too relaxed in tempo.

Alban Berg’s two-movement String Quartet inhabits a similar hot-house atmosphere; vividly communicative, volatile, yet always musical in expression and shape, and brought to considerable life by the Kuss players in what is a commanding performance.

The recording is certainly vivid if a little too bright and ambient in the loudest fortissimos. Nevertheless, allowing that the Busch Quartet in its 1938 recording of the Schubert (all over in a cracking forty minutes) is not to be forgotten, then this Onyx release is noteworthy for a stimulating coupling and for vibrant performances, the Berg especially.

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