Tetzlaff Quartet ‘finds rage in both’ Schubert and Haydn’s String Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Haydn,Schubert
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert * Haydn
WORKS: Schubert: String Quartet No. 15; Haydn: String Quartet, Op. 10 No. 3
PERFORMER: Tetzlaff Quartet


Think late Schubert and existential angst comes to mind. Haydn? Ingenious cheer. Not for Christian Tetzlaff: he finds rage in both, and ‘a certain furious basic mood’ that propels fragments of Haydn’s Op. 20 No. 3 in G minor. It’s a striking insight: both composers are dealing with discontinuities and a collision between major and minor, but it’s Haydn who kills his choleric finale with a disturbing question.

This is a terse account, serious rather than playful, the rough and tumble precisely caught. Sparky passagework lights up the first and last movements, nicely swinging exchanges maintain energy levels, however obsessively Haydn returns to opening and closing gestures. Only, perhaps, in the Poco adagio did I find the cello’s melancholy cantilena a little too smooth: the cellist of the Chiaroscuro Quartet in its recent recording on BIS finds a touching fragility and searching quality lacking here.

Artists may not always achieve their declared intention, but when Tetzlaff talks in the booklet of Schubert’s Quartet No. 15 ‘screaming and whispering’ he means business. This is a coruscating performance from their first icy creeping entrance. It’s hard-edged, driven to extremes, yet there’s space for silence – the sense of tip-toeing on the edge of the abyss in the breath-held Andante is palpable. Each turn to the minor obliterates one to the major: as Tetzlaff puts it, each fresh major chord made ‘even more bitter’. I particularly love their evocation of the trio’s idyll as something infinitely distant, untouchable. Gusty freedom marks the finale’s death dance. This is an austere take on Schubert’s Quartet No. 15, but a convincing one.


Helen Wallace