Schubert/Schumann: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44

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COMPOSERS: Schubert/Schumann
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter (piano); Borodin Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-18253-2
This compelling account of Death and the Maiden was the last recording made by the Borodin Quartet in its old formation, with Mikhail Kopelman as leader (he has since moved to the Tokyo Quartet). It is in every way a fitting farewell. There have been more precipitate performances of the whirlwind tarantella-style finale, but few which convey the notion of a grim dance of death with such intensity. The Borodin’s interpretation of the famous variation movement, too, is very well judged, with the music seeming to unfold in a single breath. Of rival versions, the Lindsays perhaps have greater overall warmth, and they generate rather more mystery in Schubert’s many pianissimo passages. Theirs is, incidentally, the only other recording I know in which the very long repeat of the first movement exposition is observed.

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The ‘live’ performance of the Schumann Quintet strikes me as rather less successful. Teldec’s rather closely balanced recording may be partly to blame for a general lack of dynamic shading and tonal variety; but Richter and the Borodin seem determined in any case to turn its slow movement into a funeral march, and they are decidedly ponderous in the scherzo, too. To hear Martha Argerich’s mercurial playing in the latter movement (EMI) is to enter a different world altogether. Best, perhaps, to regard the Schubert as the main fare and the Schumann as a bonus: worth hearing, without doubt, but hardly the best available version of this popular piece. Misha Donat