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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet in G D887 [53:40]
Movement for String Quartet in C minor D103 (fragment completed by Christian Starke) [10:39]
Diogenes Quartet
rec. July 2015, Himmelfahrtkirche, München-Sending, Germany

This final volume of a very well-received series of Schubert’s string quartets (review) includes his final string quartet, as well as a fragment of an early, unfinished work.

The String Quartet in G, D887 seems to be bursting at its seams, so difficult is it to contain this dramatic and energetic music within the intimate framework of chamber music. Like the late piano sonatas, the piano trios, or the Great C Major symphony, this quartet conveys the sense of a journey through a vast landscape. At times the effect is otherworldly, and the Diogenes Quartet responds to this mystic side, as if the spirit of Anton Bruckner is contained within the notes. If we can hear echoes of Schubert in Bruckner symphonies, why not hear the proto-Bruckner among the possibilities inherent in Schubert?

The result is a performance of grandeur, carved in stone. The Diogenes take a monumental twenty-three minutes to play the opening Allegro molto moderato, but the wonderful ensemble of this quartet helps maintain a sense of forward movement. For some listeners, grandeur may flirt uncomfortably with grandiosity. The Diogenes’ tempi for the other movements are faster and more conventional. The Andante is a real walk. The trotting rhythm in the finale takes us on another of Schubert’s great horse rides, to exciting effect.

One hesitation with the Diogenes’ approach in this quartet, is that they tend to pull Schubert out of his historical context, in contrast to musicians who try to situate Schubert in his time. The Diogenes takes a very different view to András Schiff in the late piano sonatas, or Thomas Dausgaard in the Great C Major Symphony. Both apply a lighter touch, fleeter tempi, and a nod to historically informed performance practice, while still maintaining high levels of excitement and poetry in late Schubert.

The C minor fragment is an early work, begun and abandoned in 1820. Schubert apparently abandoned the sonata-form first movement at the end of the development. Christian Starke is to be praised for completing it in a convincing manner, allowing us to enjoy some unfamiliar Schubert, performed with conviction and finesse. There are some striking passages in a loosely organized movement, but nothing in the same league as Schubert’s best-known piece of unfinished chamber music, the dramatic and haunting C minor “Quartettsatz” D703, from 1820.

The recording presents closely miked instruments spread across a giant sound stage, fitting for such a symphonic reading. The recording also carries a lot of warmth, again appropriate for such a romantic interpretation of Schubert.

Richard Kraus



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