LABELS: Neu Records
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: String Quartets: No. 7 in D, D94; No. 5 in B flat, D68; No. 14 in D minor (Death and the Maiden)
PERFORMER: Cuarteto Casals
CATALOGUE NO: NEU 003
This is wonderful playing, and the performance of all three works gains a lot from being seen as well as heard. One always speculates – at least I do – about the dynamics, artistic and personal, of string quartet performers, but I have never felt that I have seen such a happy team as the Cuarteto Casals. Not only their glances and occasional smiles, but their whole body language suggest a harmonious group each member of which retains his or her personality. And the results are wonderful.
Schubert’s early quartets are perhaps the most interesting of his early instrumental works, more adventurous than his early symphonies, more evidently shaped than his early piano sonatas. This pair, anyway, are, if not on the level of mature Schubert, well worth listening to in their own right. But it is, of course, the superb Death and the Maiden that one goes for, and this is a fine account up there with the best I have seen and heard. Without over-stressing anything, the Casals team immediately make clear the basic premise of the work: the fiercely dramatic and the passionately lyrical, proclaimed in the opening bars and maintained throughout the work, with the soothing melody of the title song giving way to the intensity of the slow movement, the straightforward aggression of the scherzo, and one of the most convincing of Schubert’s moto perpetuo finales, which abound in his later works. This is Schubert at his darkest, with only energy, boundless but undirected, to sustain him.