Schubert: String Quartet in G, D887; Quartettsatz in C minor, D103

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LABELS: Koch Schwann Musica Mundi
WORKS: String Quartet in G, D887; Quartettsatz in C minor, D103
PERFORMER: Medici Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6776-2
With its epic scale and visionary reach, Schubert’s G major Quartet is the most daunting of all his instrumental works. And in the first two movements the Medici rises impressively to its challenge. Like most groups, it focuses more on the ‘molto moderato’than the ‘allegro’ in the opening movement, and ignores the ‘poco moto’ qualification in the Andante. Occasionally – especially in the Andante – the players can be a shade slack over rhythmic detail. But their playing is imaginatively characterised, minutely responsive to Schubert’s markings (which means, inter alia, properly towering crescendos and a true pp and ppp) and to the implications of his strange and violent harmonic shifts. Particular felicities include the ensemble’s control and colouring of Schubert’s all-pervasive tremolos, whether in the barely corporeal rustlings of the first movement or the Gothic-horror nightmare of the Andante, and its magical shading of the heart-breaking turn to E major towards the end of the Andante. And the Medici always meticulously balances theme and accompaniment, whether in the pizzicatos that shimmer and skitter around the opening movement’s second subject (its nagging conga rhythms here given a gentle lilt) or the main theme of the slow movement, where the cello can sing eloquently without needing to raise his voice. Reservations – and you saw them coming – set in with the third movement, here too measured and comfortable for Schubert’s darting, thistledown scherzo, and most seriously, the tarantella finale, which at 12-and-a-half minutes (most quartets take around two minutes less) is by some way the slowest and most dogged performance on disc. Granted, the Medici conveys a certain stoical grittiness. But the group totally misses the desperate, quivering energy generated by the likes of the Lindsays (ASV) and, my own first choice, the Alban Berg, which gives as complete and unsettling a performance of this uniquely disturbing quartet as any I have heard. Richard Wigmore