Schubert and Haydn Quartets: A Match Made in (Uneasy) Heaven

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

In these days of megaboxes and reissues, it’s surprising and delightful to see a new release that couples two beautiful quartets, immaculately played, just because–well, just because. OK, the cover art makes Tetzlaff look like a cult leader hanging out with his three sister-wives, but happily his eponymous quartet doesn’t fall prey to any Svengali-like mind control from its first violin. Their work is that of a true quartet, well-balanced, precise, and with a welcome give-and-take between the parts.

This is particularly true of the Schubert, a work whose strange harmonies and endless tremolo textures foreshadow Bruckner, and which demand a particularly sensitive handling of the relationship between melody and accompaniment. The first movement relishes its quasi orchestral textures, but without ever letting us forget that this really is chamber music. In both of the outer movements tempos are particularly well judged, with the constant seesawing between major and minor in the finale producing a truly disturbing, almost queasy effect.

Haydn’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 20 (No. 3) makes an ideal disc mate, even leaving aside its complementary tonality. Its first movement, particularly, offers plenty of uneasy emotional ambiguity that’s very well captured here. Charles Rosen, in The Classical Style, presented a typically penetrating analysis, calling its handling of rhythm and motivic development positively upsetting; and in this interpretation the evident care with dynamics and sense of timing conveys the darkness just below the surface particularly well.

In short, this is a throwback: a classical music release without a stupid title or ridiculous concept, one that lets the greatness of the music speak for itself and offers interpretations that justify the program through purely musical means. Wonder of wonders. It deserves your support, and will reward your close attention.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this coupling

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