WORKS: String Quartet in D minor (Death and the Maiden); Black Angels – 13 Images from the Dark Land
PERFORMER: Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-76260-2 DDD
It is an interesting idea to couple Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet with Black Angels by the contemporary American composer, George Crumb. Death is the link, Schubert’s masterpiece being written in a period of black despair, while Black Angels, written in 1970, was inspired by the Vietnam war.
Crumb’s work for electric string quartet is a terrifying depiction of surreal horror drawing on an arsenal of sounds including shouting, chanting, whistling and scraping. A quotation of Schubert’s song ‘Death and the Maiden’ is particularly shocking, especially as the Brodsky Quartet here chooses to play the version in which Crumb instructs that the pitch should slip by a full tone.
The only other recording of Black Angels on the catalogue is by the Kronos Quartet, which also offers it in a mixed repertoire contrasting new with old. The two versions hardly bear comparison; the intense drama of the Kronos performance is entirely missing from the Brodsky’s, and partly because of poor sound engineering. The Brodsky’s Schubert is also harsh in sound, wayward in phrasing, rhythmically sloppy and exaggerated in dynamics. A case of the worst of both worlds. Annette Morreau