WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, D804 (Rosamunde); String Quartet in E flat, D87; Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
PERFORMER: Belcea Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57419 2
The Belcea’s Schubert has all the freshness and sense of discovery that marked its debut disc of French quartets. Its account of the early E flat Quartet is more pliable and highly strung than the excellent performance from the Yggdrasil (see below). And unlike the Swedish group, it highlights the extreme contrast between the raucous, Beethovenian scherzo and the delicate musette trio. In the Quartettsatz the Belcea combines fiery impulsiveness with intense lyrical pathos, taking note of the prescribed Allegro assai and maintaining the pulse for the yearning A flat second theme (exquisitely floated by leader Corina Belcea).
In the Rosamunde Quartet, Schubert’s supreme expression of nostalgia for lost innocence, the Belcea holds its own with the searching recordings by, inter alia, the Quartetto Italiano, Lindsays, Alban Berg, Artis and (using gut strings and period bows) Mosaïques. As in the Quartettsatz its rubato always grows naturally from the curve of the line and the flux of the harmony; and the players are invariably alive to the emotional implication of Schubert’s dynamics, not least his frequent differentiation between a tender piano and a withdrawn, unearthly pianissimo. Tempi, too, are ideally chosen, the Andante sweetly floated at a relaxed walking pace, the finale gentle yet animated, poised between dance and dream. Forced to live with just one version of the Rosamunde – an absurd proposition – I’d still narrowly choose the Mosaïques for its confessional intimacy and the delicacy of colouring possible on gut strings. But anyone investing in this new disc will hear Schubert-playing of uncommon empathy and insight. Richard Wigmore