Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden)

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LABELS: Calliope
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert String Quartets
WORKS: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden)
PERFORMER: Talich Quartet
Like the Talich’s studio recording, this Death and the Maiden, recorded at a concert in Paris last year, is more notable for lyricism than for death-haunted drama. The fast movements have ample sinew without aiming for the violence and desperation of groups like the Alban Berg (EMI), the Hagen (DG) and the Lindsays (ASV). In the first movement it is the delicacy and vocal grace of the second theme that lingers in the memory; and it is characteristic that the coda should sound elegiac rather than eerily bleak (the Lindsays) or a howl of pain (the Alban Berg). The Scherzo, done quite steadily, has playfulness as well as truculence, the Trio a luminous, nostalgic tenderness. Comparing the Talich with their earlier incarnation, the Andante is now more mobile, a melancholy, hypnotic dance rather than a dirge; and the variations, each beautifully characterised (you will rarely hear such airy, fanciful violin arabesques in the first variation), flow inevitably into each other.


Confined to a single Death and the Maiden, I should still agonise between the Berg, the Hagen and the more romantically flexible Lindsays, all of whom find a darker heart to the music. But the Talich, vividly recorded (save for a slightly under-balanced cello) may come as a welcome antidote to those who think the music’s death associations overplayed. I’m baffled, though, as to why Calliope offer just one and a half movements of Dvoák’s exhilarating E flat Quintet as an ‘encore’ – all the more frustratingly when the Talich’s performance is so passionate and idiomatic. Richard Wigmore