Schubert: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Quartettsatz in C minor

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Death and the Maiden); Quartettsatz in C minor
PERFORMER: Jerusalem Quartet


The youthful Jerusalem Quartet has been gaining plaudits and awards already, and now they are to be heard on an outstanding disc which shows their calibre in music which is far more demanding, certainly emotionally and spiritually, than any they have set on disc previously. Schubert’s mature string quartets have often been criticised for the ‘orchestral’ nature of the writing, which, more than Beethoven’s, even, demands that four stringed instruments create sounds as ample and harmonically dense as you’d expect from a much larger group of players. In the C minor Quartet Movement this tendency is already apparent, and the Jerusalem Quartet manage to capture precisely the windswept character of this music, alternating with its pained sweetness. The recording is spacious, immediate but not oppressive. By the time Schubert wrote the amazing Death and the Maiden Quartet four years later, he knew his days were numbered. The intensity of the assault has been stepped up, and so has the plangency of the reaction to it. This is brutal and disquieting music, and even more so in the second movement, where the variations on the title song range from bleak ‘consolation’ to rampant despair. The Scherzo is a hammering machine, while the finale is maddening in its refusal to stop its surging dotted rhythm. How to go with Schubert all the way, but not overdo it in the light of what has been composed since? That is the huge problem posed by this music, and the Jerusalem Quartet has found the answer to a greater degree than any that I can recall hearing. Their mastery of rubato is as refined as that of any contemporary group, and this disc is as near to perfection as one can possibly find. Michael Tanner