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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) String Quartet No. 12 in C minor (fragment), D703 “Quartettsatz” [08:43]
String Quartet No. 4 in C major, D46 [22:14]
String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, D804 “Rosamunde” [34:11]
Klenke Quartett (Annegret Klenke & Beate Hartmann, violins, Yvonne Uhlemann, viola, Ruth Kaltenhaüser, cello)
rec. 2012/13, Hans-Rosbaud, Studio SWR Baden-Baden, Germany GENUIN GEN15360 [65:13]
The Klenke Quartet from Germany have made relatively few recordings since they formed in 1991 but those discs, especially of the mature Mozart quartets, have won high praise. They offer here a programme of early and late Schubert, and demonstrate again their high skill in the Viennese classics of the quartet genre. They get off to an impressive start with the sublime Quartettsatz (“quartet movement”) in C minor, keeping the tempo flowing, with none of the unmarked slowing down for the great dolce subject one sometimes hears. When that fine tune is repeated at once the cello counterpoint to it is ideally balanced, and so such refined playing is heard throughout the movement. Their feeling for rhythm and subtle rubato is admirable, key factors in good Schubert quartet playing (as in performing much else of course!). This movement is much recorded by many a famous ensemble, but I do not know of any recent performance I have found more satisfying than this one.
The early C major quartet D46 is one of four Schubert wrote in 1813, and probably his most successful up to then. Certainly in this context is rather more than a mere makeweight for the well-known late works. The Klenke Quartet do not patronise the music, but play it for all is worth. After all, little that Schubert wrote at age 16 can be ignored as just juvenilia, and the fact that he wrote it in 5 days suggests he was completely absorbed in the challenge. The Klenke Quartet make it sound as if it is really in their repertoire, not learned to fill the disc. The first movement is given its exposition repeat, and the material can take the 8:20 length. One notes the tremolos and silent bars, looking forward to the weight such devices give to the later quartets, but kept in scale by the players for this earlier work. The ¾ andante is charmingly done, and the menuetto’s p, pp, f and ff markings are all observed, but sounding natural, without exaggeration. And in the insouciant jollity of the finale it really sounds as if these musicians are enjoying themselves, not just putting in a day at the office.
The great “Rosamunde” Quartet is of course an achievement of a different order, but the Klenke bring to it the same qualities of naturalness of expression heard in D46. Their tempi are traditional, never extreme, and there is a sense of breathing the phrases almost, reminding us happily of Schubert the song composer. Annegret Klenke is an impressive first violin and sounds a true primus inter pares, not a soloist manqué, and her colleagues are also fine players, but it is the blend and ensemble that matters in a quartet. This is where the Klenke—playing together for over 25 years without a single change of personnel—stand out. They remind us of the original intention of the classical quartet to provide music primarily to be enjoyed by the players, and perhaps a few fortunate friends, rather than a public audience. If this means their approach is less projected, less powerfully rhetorical than others, because they are not aiming to engage a hall full of paying customers, the result is refreshing indeed.
The recorded sound is more than acceptable, not too close up and in a convincing acoustic. The booklet has good notes on the music by Tilmann Böttcher and an intriguing interview with the quartet members. In the latter the players respond pointedly to the question whether they would sound different if a man was a member of the group, by asking if we could tell from an orchestral concert on the radio if the oboist was a man or a woman. (Quite.) The quartets D46 and D804 can also be found in a performance by Festetics Quartet on Arcana, and quartets D703, and D46 with the Verdi Quartet on Hänssler Classics, but I know of no direct competitor with this exact coupling, so if the programme appeals (and it should) this disc will give much pleasure.