Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet No.15 in G major, D. 887 (1826) [52.20]
String Quartet No.12 in C minor, D.703 Quartettsatz (1820)
Wihan Quartet (Leoš Cepický (violin), Jan Schulmeister (violin), Jirí
Žigmund (viola), Aleš Kasprík (cello))
rec. 20-21 June 2012, Martinu Hall, Music Academy of Performing Arts,
Prague, Czech Republic
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6221 [62:12]
Founded at the Prague Academy of Musical Arts in 1985 the Wihan Quartet
is currently in residence at Trinity College of Music, London. In 2012
they released live recordings of Schubert’s Rosamunde and Death
and the Maiden Quartets, set down in the Convent of St. Agnes,
Prague. For their latest issue the Wihan has again turned to Schubert
with studio recordings of String Quartet No. 15 and the Quartettsatz.
Schubert completed the String Quartet No. 15 in 1826. It was
his last in the medium and was written in less than two weeks. Massive
in scale, this intense work represented a radical change for Schubert
with its unconventional tonality and unsettling and aggressive character.
It was 1850, twenty-two years after the composer’s death, before it
had its premičre; publication followed a year later. At fifty-two minutes
the G major is often overlooked both on record and in the recital hall.
Shorter quartets such as Death and the Maiden and Rosamunde
tend to be favoured. These works are more immediately appealing lyrically
and have the distinct advantage of possessing attractive titles.
One can only imagine the amount of hard work and preparation that has
gone into these assured performances. Opening with a substantial Allegro
molto moderato that takes them twenty-two minutes to traverse the
Wihan demonstrate fiercely committed playing. There is a ferocity, near
violence, about the writing; something not usually associated with Schubert.
Introduced by a plaintive song-like cello line the Andante’s
dramatic and unsettlingly tragic writing feels distinctly symphonic.
Even so an additional degree of passion would have helped here. Playing
with an abundance of rhythmic drive and vigour in the Mendelssohnian
Scherzo the Wihan reveals a slightly oppressive edge. At 3:07-5:24
the soothing qualities of the amiable Ländler trio
section come as a welcome relief. In the Rondo, Finale
a rather obsessive near Tarantella 6/8 propels the music valiantly
forward. Played with vigour Schubert’s quicksilver modulations are rather
unsettling with a curiously Haydnesque mocking quality.
Of alternative accounts of the String Quartet No. 15 I greatly
admire the gripping and stimulating 2009 performance from the Artemis
Quartet. Recorded at the Siemensvilla, Berlin this is on Virgin Classics
6025122 (c/w D804 and D810). Also worthy of consideration is the wonderfully
expressive 1977 Swiss account from the Italian Quartet on Philips 446
163-2 (c/w D810; D804; D703). The Lindsays offer highly intense and
characterful interpretations. They seem to have been recorded at the
Bishopsgate Hall, London but it’s hard to see as the font in the booklet
is minute. Originally released on ASV CDDCA661 I also have the account
as part of the Lindsays excellent 4-disc Schubert collection of ‘The
Late String Quartets’ on Sanctuary Classics Resonance CD RSB 403 (c/w
D956, D810, D703, D804, D112). In addition I also like to play the captivating
2010 account from the Kuss Quartet. This was recorded at Siemens-Villa,
Berlin. It is to be found on Onyx 4066 (c/w Berg String Quartet,
The Quartettsatz is one of Schubert’s finest compositions and
was written between his renowned Quintet in A major ‘The
Trout’ and shortly before the equally famous Symphony No. 8
‘Unfinished’. Marked Allegro assai this score consists
of an extended single movement lasting 9:45. It is thought that Schubert
intended it to be the opening movement to a traditional four movement
string quartet. It’s a puzzle why he didn’t write the other movements.
The Wihan is fiercely passionate in the Quartettsatz and in
general there is a pleasing vitality to the playing. It may impress
but it cannot match the assurance of rivals from the Artemis on Virgin
Classics and the Lindsays on Resonance. The tone of leader Leoš Cepický
impresses amid all that satisfying technical security. From my collection
I greatly admire the account of the Quartettsatz played by
the Artemis Quartet. They respond with playing of ardent and freshly
spontaneous expression. The Artemis was recorded in 2007 at the Teldex
Studio, Berlin on Virgin Classics 5021132 (c/w Andante fragment
from D703; Quintet, D956 ). Also I have long been fond of the
thrilling version from the Lindsays. This emphasises the exciting and
dramatic power and broad ideas of the score. Recorded in the 1980s at
Castleton Parish Church, Sheffield the recording is available as part
of an attractive commemorative four disc box of Schubert’s late string
quartets released to mark the disbandment of the Lindsays on Sanctuary
Classics Resonance RSB 403. Also worth consideration is the Belcea,
beautifully played and recorded from 2002 at Potton Hall, Suffolk on
EMI Classics 5181822 (c/w D.87, D.804).
The Wihan are strong and positive and certainly deserve to be heard.
The sound of this Nimbus Alliance disc is cool, well balanced and reasonably
clear. I wonder if a warmer acoustic might have helped, though.