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13.7.10

Quatuor Mosaïques Continues with Schubert

available at Amazon
Schubert, String Quartets D. 173 / 810, Quatuor Mosaïques

(released on April 27, 2010)
Laborie (Naïve) LC06 | 65'21"

Online scores:
Schubert, D. 173 | D. 810
We have attested to the fine Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven -- both live and on disc -- played by Quatuor Mosaïques. The group, formed in the 1980s by cellist Christophe Coin and other members of Nikolaus Harnoncourt's historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble Concentus Musicus, plays on 18th-century instruments (the Joseph Guarnerius in the hands of first violinist Erich Höbarth is slightly older, dating from 1683) with gut strings. As noted of the group's recent work on a disc of music by Boëly, this is not a performance for listeners who do not enjoy the typical aspects of HIP sound. The leaner, warmer sound does produce some remarkable effects in these Schubert pieces, however, especially in the variations on Schubert's song Der Tod und das Mädchen in D. 810, which gives that quartet its nickname. The four instruments create a halo of amber sound in this hushed movement that seems like Death's welcoming embrace -- that is, not the terrifying apparition of the "wilder Knochenmann" the maiden perceives (poem by Matthias Claudius), but the friend come to offer rest rather than punishment. Even as some of the more active figuration percolates through the movement, the gentle tread of Death's feet always shines through the ensemble, a sense of comfort that reaches its apogee in the G major ppp conclusion of the movement.

The HIP sound also plays very well in the third and fourth movements, where the greater soft side of the spectrum creates other unexpected textures. As always, one misses some of the heft of the modern strings at more forceful movements (all those fz markings, for example), especially in the first movement of D. 810, for which the really fine recent recording by the Jerusalem Quartet is better by comparison. While the quartet audibly knows D. 810 very well -- a career-long obsession for some of the players, a matter touched on in the liner essay -- D. 173 seems less familiar, judging by some minor ensemble disagreements (made worse by a sound capture that is at times too close, making possible the hushed wonder of D. 810's slow movement but also revealing all the flaws in D. 173). The slender D. 173 is a nice piece but nowhere near the achievement of D. 810. The combination of a late quartet with an early one -- if such a distinction makes any sense for a composer who died so young -- follows the formula of the quartet's "first volume" of Schubert, released over a decade ago and now not so easy to find. If a complete Schubert quartet set is a goal, it could be competitive and at the very least an interesting choice.

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