Schubert: String Quartet in E, D353; String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Quartettsatz in C minor, D703

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Upbeat
WORKS: String Quartet in E, D353; String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
PERFORMER: Coull Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: URCD 139
With this third volume of Schubert quartets, the Coull confirms its comprehensive grasp of the composer’s sound-world. The E major (D353) was the last of the quartets Schubert wrote for the family group in which he played viola. Here, the Coull’s evocation of the uncomplicated charm of the young Schubert’s domestic music-making is most engaging, their firm ensemble and natural warmth easily synchronising with this music’s genial character.

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A new mood is evident in the C minor Quartettsatz, composed four years later in 1820. This remarkable quartet fragment, whose second theme quotes from an aria in Grétry’s opera Lucile (‘where are things better than in the bosom of one’s family’), reflects the comfort Schubert found by lodging with his brother Ferdinand following his arrest on suspicion of political subversion. Like the Lindsay Quartet, the Coull vividly portrays the score’s violently opposing gestures, although the drier recording given to the Coull is less atmospheric.

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The Death and the Maiden Quartet shows Schubert fully committed to the public arena. It may have been this work’s first movement that Schuppanzigh’s Quartet played at the composer’s only Privatkonzert on 26 March 1828. The Lindsay Quartet benefits from better recording, and it plays with greater rhythmic tautness in the outer movements. Whether to go with its more relaxed approach to the scherzo or the Coull’s more strongly contrasted reading will be determined by personal taste. However, the Coull still impresses by its committed portrayal of this piece’s dramatic content, effectively conjuring images that underline its programmatic allusions. Nicholas Rast