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Schubert: String Quartets Nos 12 & 15

Fitzwilliam String Quartet (Linn Records)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Schubert
String Quartets: No. 12 in C minor ‘Quartettsatz’ (completed by B Newbould); No. 15 in G
Fitzwilliam String Quartet
Linn Records CKD 673   74:18 mins

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This intriguing recording opens with the ominous rumble of Schubert’s Quartettsatz, a movement which was unpublished in Schubert’s lifetime, and first performed nearly 40 years after his death. It has remained a repertoire favourite ever since. Here, it’s paired with Brian Newbould’s sympathetic completion of the corresponding – and, sadly, less interesting – Andante.

The Fitzwilliams lead us into a world of turmoil with the mighty String Quartet in G major. They craft a hugely imaginative soundscape, enjoying the rough scrape of bow on string as much as the teasing out of narrow, eerie timbres and the singing of heartfelt melodies. The freely unfolding opening hints at the adventures to follow. However, this is not fully sustained. The Andantelacks a little richness and its sprawling trajectory needs more direction. The Scherzo could be more dramatic and robust, although I enjoyed its introvert un-hastiness. The closing Allegro recaptured some of the energy lost during the inner movements.

The players offer insightful contributions in their liner note, telling us they’re playing ‘upgraded 18th-century Italian masterpieces’ strung with 19th-century Viennese-style thick gut, alongside other fascinating details of their approach.

This is an original, often compelling performance. These musicians seamlessly integrate historically informed techniques such as an attractive portamento (sliding between notes) into their playing. Vibrato is meted out sparingly, resulting in an occasional whininess, and some moments of uneasy intonation. Still, there’s some impressive control of Schubert’s lengthy forms, some spine-chilling quiet playing and silvery, shimmering tremolos, the whole held together by excellent recording quality.

Natasha Loges

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