String Quartet in A minor, D.804; String Quartet in D minor, D.810
Fitzwilliam String Quartet
Divine Art dda 25197 82.15 mins
‘Do you know any happy music?,’ Schubert is supposed to have responded to a friend who complained that his works were too gloomy. Certainly it’s hard to think of a more melancholy piece than the A minor Rosamunde String Quartet; and the Death and the Maiden Quartet goes so far as to have all four of its movements in minor keys – a surfeit of sombreness that won’t even be found in Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, let alone any work by such predecessors or near contemporaries of Schubert as Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven.
The Fitzwilliam Quartet players capture the mood of Schubert’s pieces very well and are particularly successful in Death and the Maiden, where their tempo for the famous slow movement is well judged, with its major-mode fourth variation admirably free of sentimentality. In the following variation almost all performances by other string quartets reserve the crescendo from pp to ff for the start of the second half, but the Fitzwilliam players observe Schubert’s dynamic marking indicating an increase in volume each time the first section is heard. It’s a pity, though, that their account of the tarantella-like finale is rather lacking in energy. The same is true of the last movement in the Rosamunde Quartet, which sounds more like an easy-going Allegretto than an Allegro. Misha Donat