SCHUBERT: String Quartets #8 (D. 112), #15 (D. 887) – Takács String Quartet – Hyperion

by | May 7, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: String Quartet No. 8 in B-flat Major, D. 112; String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D. 887 – Takács String Quartet – Hyperion CDA68423 (77:49) (2/28/24) [Distr. by PIAS] *****:

Recorded 20-23 May 2023, these imposing string quartets of Franz Schubert, respectively from 1814 and 1826, mark decisive traits in the composer’s evolution. For the Quartet No. 8 in B-flat Major, the strong influence of Jospeh Haydn can be detected, while the G Major Quartet both reflects and avoids the hovering figure of late Beethoven.  

Schubert played viola in his family quartet, and the instrument’s early entry at measure four of his 1814 String Quartet’s first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, serves to enrich the first violin’s statement of the primary theme. Schubert’s tendency to set the thematic material in key-centered groups – foreshadowing much of Anton Bruckner – creates an imaginatively diverse canvas that likes to gravitate to F major and divert to G minor. The development rather playfully elaborates various instrumental dialogues in alterations of major and minor, with the lower voice cello’s adding pedal points. The recapitulation, predictable as it must be, exerts unusual tension in this reading by an alert, incisive Takacs Quartet.

Schubert’s second movement Andante sostenuto resumes the Stoic nobility of the G minor expressed earlier, in movement one. All four strings intone on their lowest string, and a solemnity emerges reminiscent of Haydn’s “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me,” the fourth of the meditations from Seven Last Words. The dramatic middle section, with a several times repeated trope, dolce, bears a chromatic beauty painfully expressive in late drone effects. The third movement clearly has debts to Haydn’s earthy, spiky court dances: marked Menuetto: Allegro – Trio, rustic in character. The Trio, however, sounds the violins’ part in long-phrased octaves against pizzicato delicacies in the two lower voices. For his last movement, Presto, Schubert manufactures a scurrying dance that plays like a scherzo, with first violin Edward Dusinberre’s realizing a concertante solo series of staccato notes against the legato in his colleagues. As pedal points gradually define the contour of the whole, the skittering motif of staccato eighths has infiltrated the texture. The metric pattern all but defines the more colossal version of the impulse as it appears in the Scherzo of the C Major Symphony, D. 944.   

Schubert consistently links love with pain, one ineluctably expressive of the other. The G Major Quartet of 1826 was composed in eleven days In June, but it appeared in print as late as 1851, when it became often dismissed by ensembles as “virtually unplayable.” What most characterizes this massive opus is its sense of space, the huge, breathed hesitations that prefigure any Bruckner symphony. The opening, major chords of the epic, expansive Allegro molto moderato quickly emerge in minor, with shuddering tremolos accompanying a theme in dotted rhythm with its octave leap. The firm landing on G occurs relatively late, in measure 33, a delay of the tonic that Beethoven relishes. After a huge ff, the violin offers an obsessive tune in D major, confined to the interval of a sixth, that the second violin assumes in tandem with the first violin rhythmic inflections. The imitations persist in varied textures and keys – in B-flat for cello – the secondary theme dominant until the development opts for the primary theme’s capacity for modal shifts, for serenity and violence, the latter in eruptive polyphony. The order of thematic presentation will reverse on the recapitulation, the modes turned upside down as the grueling anguish subsides, via rolling triplets, into melodic beneficence. 

The second movement, Andante un poco moto, must lament at a walking pace without drag. This music will twice confront an emotional storm, much in the manner of the second movement of the A Major Sonata, D. 959.  At first, the melody in E minor ambles forth in the cello’s tenor register, but a two-note figure in violin and viola (G and B-flat) interrupts the flow and refuses to accommodate the surrounding texture. The whole “symphonic” texture assumes a harsh, anguished quality of passing modulations, with seething tremolo effects appropriate to nightmare. A martial quality finally emerges into whose pattern the cello once more sings woefully. With a series of major/alternations, the music resigns itself to an elegy for things past or undone. 

A restive, fluttering energy permeates the opening of the Scherzo: Allegro – Trio in B minor.  Highly contrapuntal, the music emanates a dragonfly delicacy and razor-honed incisiveness of delivery by Takacs. The Trio section, however, opens a vista of unworldly repose.  Earthly strife seems banished from our experience, in which the pedal point from the viola helps realize an Austrian laendler in soft dynamics that dwells blissfully in G and B major. The final movement, however, Allegro assai, reverts to a manic tarantella that resounds with modal shifts. Here is another of Schubert’s mad gallops towards an abyss more overtly depicted by Berlioz. Repetitive and obsessive, the music refuses to cater to the genial notion of Schubert’s temperament. The sense of a fatal impulse seems to dance among the four instruments, which respond to each other with unremitting, virtually gasping, intensity.  

Recorded at the Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate, Monmouth b Recording Producer Andrew Keener, the disc proves an invaluable addition to the Takacs Quartet legacy.

—Gary Lemco

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Album Cover for Takacs Quartet - Schubert D887

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