WORKS: String Quartet in A; String Quartet in G
PERFORMER: Franz Schubert Quartet, Vienna
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5467 DDD
Franz Schmidt’s two string quartets date from his full maturity, yet they are less individual achievements than his symphonies. Deeply, defiantly conservative in style, Classical in form and content, they extend with consummate musicianship the Austro-Hungarian quartet tradition as it had evolved from Schubert through Brahms, with nods at Schumann and Dvorák. Expansive four-movement designs (a shade under forty minutes each here), melodious and masterfully written for the medium, they’re distinguished works full of deep feeling but with little sense of adventure.
Nimbus’s notes – at least the English version – say virtually nothing about them, despite lengthy discussion of Schmidt’s life and significance. The A major quartet (1925), with its depressive Adagio and resourceful variation finale, is the more severe; there’s little in its language to tell you it wasn’t composed around the 1870s. The G major (1929), with its beautiful Tranquillo opening movement, and melancholic serenade of a scherzo, is the more gemütlich, but also the more advanced harmonically, with occasional turns of phrase reminiscent of Schoenberg’s D minor Quartet of twenty years before. It’s difficult to imagine either work better played than in these affectionate, utterly committed performances by the Franz Schubert Quartet of Vienna, captured by Nimbus in a beautifully natural chamber acoustic. History may have passed these pieces by, but they have much to offer. Calum MacDonald