Pavel Haas Quartet: Schubert

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor “Death and the Maiden”, String Quartet in C Major
WORKS: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, String Quartet in C Major
PERFORMER: Pavel Haas Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SU4110-2

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The Pavel Haas Quartet is still a young ensemble, but here they give great performances of two of the most demanding works in the repertoire. Schubert, even at his greatest, is not usually credited with plumbing the depths that Beethoven reached in his late Quartets, but I wonder about that. No music expresses greater pain than Schubert’s, though in Beethoven, as in Bach, there is sometimes a sense that even the worst sufferings can be transcended. Schubert didn’t allow himself that comfort, so the best he can do to counter his pain is to keep moving. Hence those frenetic perpetual motion finales in so many of his later works.

The Pavel Haas Quartet, with the superb extra cellist Danjulo Ishizaka, even succeed where most other ensembles fail, making the last movement of the String Quintet into something that seems a fitting conclusion to a work whose first three movements are unquestionably supreme. Marked allegretto, they take the movement faster than that, though their tempos are flexible. For the strange passages of bewilderment they relax the tempo, but not the intensity. Neither the Quintet nor their Death and the Maiden makes comfortable listening, but none of the greatest Schubert does. It’s essential listening for anyone who loves Schubert.

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Michael Tanner