Schubert: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Der Tod und das Mädchen); String Quartet in E flat, D87

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Der Tod und das Mädchen); String Quartet in E flat, D87
PERFORMER: Yggdrasil Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1201
With a leaner, lighter tone than many rivals – including the Alban Berg (on its live EMI recording), the Artis (Sony) and the Lindsays (ASV) – the Yggdrasil Quartet tends to emphasise songful grace over death-haunted drama in Schubert’s D minor Quartet. Significantly, the players taper away the fierce triplet motif that launches the first movement; and there are times – say, the coda’s più mosso build-up – when you might wish for more tension, even terror, in their playing. But few ensembles are so responsive to Schubert’s aching lyricism or bring such a delicate lilt to the second theme. In the Andante variations the players ignore the ‘con moto’ qualification, and with it the suggestion of a doleful dance. But they vindicate the slow tempo with their grave concentration and imaginative range: rarely has the major-key variation sounded so seraphic, the ppp coda so remote and disembodied.

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In the last two movements the Swedish group is relatively restrained, less demonically driven than its rivals. Again, though, there is compensation in the players’ lyrical grace and the delightful hint of playfulness they bring to the trio and the second theme of the finale. Not a first choice, then – my vote would still go to the Alban Berg’s impassioned, disturbing performance – but recommended particularly to those who feel the work’s death associations have been overplayed.

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Like the Berg, the Yggdrasil offers the innocent early E flat Quartet as a digestif. I’m not quite convinced by the hectic trio of the scherzo – both the Berg and the Belcea (see above) show how effective this can be at a more reflective tempo. But elsewhere the Swedish group is highly persuasive, whether in the light, airy opening movement or the cheeky raillery of the Haydn-meets-Rossini finale. Richard Wigmore