WORKS: String Quartets, Vol. 4: String Quartet in G minor, D18; String Quartet in B flat, D18; String Quartet in C, D46; String Quartet in B flat, D112
PERFORMER: Kodály Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555921
Schubert grew up fast as a composer of string quartets. At 14 he was certainly no Mendelssohn. And the quartet in assorted keys, D18, full of crude discontinuities and gauche schoolroom counterpoint, is redeemed only by its charming, neo-rococo minuet. Two years later, in the Quartet in C, D46, Schubert handles form and texture far more confidently, as in the way he unifies the bounding opening Allegro with fragments of the chromatic slow introduction. And both the minuet-scherzo and the rollicking, country-dance finale have an irresistible youthful élan. Still more individual and idiomatic as quartet-writing is the B flat, D112, written when Schubert was 17: the first movement has a new intimacy and grace, while the finale, with its gossamer textures and quicksilver repartee, is a more insouciant counterpart to the scherzo of the Great C major symphony.
The Kodály Quartet is particularly good in D112, shaping the lyrical themes of the first movement with a gentle flexibility, creating a beautiful dusky sonority for the G minor Andante and giving the lusty minuet a real Schuhplattler earthiness. Crucially, too, the players relish the delicacy and wit of the finale. The Kodály’s warmth and uncomplicated honesty of approach also work well in the earlier quartets, though the finale of D46 could have benefited from a sharper tempo and hungrier rhythms. Among the competition, the Lindsays are more highly strung and more subtly coloured in D112, though the Kodály Quartet is hardly less satisfying. In the other two works the Kodály easily holds its own against the cool, super-efficient Melos (DG) and the more affectionate but sometimes over-leisurely Leipzig Quartet (Dabringhaus und Grimm). Richard Wigmore