WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1; String Quartet in A, Op. 41/3
PERFORMER: Gabrieli String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84380
The Gabrieli Quartet has a fine track record, yet for all that, this disc of two of Schumann’s four still underrated string quartets is a disappointment. The opening of the First Quartet (Op. 41/1) is too ponderous, and that attitude is sustained in the movement’s main body. The problem derives, I suspect, from the first violin’s rather forced tone. Consequently the phrasing seems unduly laboured, where Schumann always demands a sense of span, a certain lightness, and a greater feel for harmonic direction than the Gabrieli brings to this music. But it is not all bad news. It achieves an infectious rusticity in the fourth movement, and the dark and poignant Adagio, complete with references to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, suits these players well.
The Third Quartet (Op. 41/3) goes more smoothly, though again one has qualms. The downward swooping sighs of the opening movement seem over-exaggerated, while conversely the scherzo conveys inadequate anxiety. But the Adagio molto is nicely gauged, the inner parts well balanced. Those with a refined sense of pitch will realise that tuning is not always reliable.
The competition is not numerous yet fairly stiff. Those who prefer a young, dynamic approach could do a lot worse than plump for the Vogler Quartet on RCA. But the leader in the field is the superb Hagen Quartet on DG, which makes a wonderful sound and senses the shape of this music far more convincingly than the Gabrieli. With both, two discs cover the pair of works, but the extra music – more Schumann – makes the additional outlay worthwhile: of the Hagen discs, at the moment just the one containing Op. 41/1 is available. Stephen Pettitt