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Schubert: The Complete String Quartets / Verdi Quartet


Release Date: 04/14/2009 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 98546   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias EllingerZoltán PaulichSusanne RabenschlagKarin Wolf
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Number of Discs: 8 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUBERT Complete String Quartets. String Quintet in C. 5 Minuets. 5 Deutche. Overture for String Quintet Verdi Qrt HÄNSSLER 98.546 (8 CDs: 420:50)


This set includes all of Schubert’s completed and incomplete string quartets, the String Quintet, and some miscellaneous string quartet and string quintet pieces. I will not comment on everything in this collection, but I will address what I regard as Schubert’s important or most interesting works included on these discs.

Read more /> The thin booklet in this eight-disc box provides very little information about the Verdi Quartet and no identification of the second cellist in the String Quintet. I Googled to get the following information. The Verdi Quartet is a German ensemble consisting of Susanne Rabenschlag and Matthias Ellinger (violins), Karin Wolf (viola), and Zoltán Paulich (cello). It was founded in 1985 by Juilliard laureate Rabenschlag. All members of the quartet have distinguished musical backgrounds. Martin Lovett (formerly of the Amadeus Quartet) joins them as second cello in the quintet.


A tripartite identification system for the Schubert string quartets has evolved during the 180 years since the composer’s death: opus number (sparse and random), ordinal number (only almost orderly) from the Mandyczewski and Hellmesberger Edition published in the U.S. by Dover (with two movements omitted from No. 2), and Deutsch Catalogue number (D number—a chronologically accurate identifier that should be helpfully accompanied by the standard first-movement key designation). In order to assure that the particular quartet I am addressing is the one that the reader may be assuming, I provide the following list (the String Quintet is included for perspective purposes):


D No. Year Ordinality Key Other Identifier Opus


18 1810 1 c/d/g


32 1812 2 C


36 1812 3 B?


46 1813 4 C


68 1813 5 B? two movements


74 1813 6 D


87 1813 10 E? 125/1


94 1812 7 D


103 1814 — c one movement


112 1814 8 B? 168


173 1815 9 g


353 1816 11 E 125/2


703 1820 12 c “Quartettsatz”


804 1824 13 a 29


810 1824 14 d “Der Tod und das Mädchen”


887 1826 15 G 161


*** *** *** *** *** ***


956 1828 inapplicable C String Quintet 163


In general, these performances are excellent. Part-writing is clearly discernable. For the most part, nothing objectionable can be found in tempos or dynamics. Interpretively, this is excellent Schubert. There are some differences from my interpretive preferences, which I will discuss.


Among the very earliest quartets, the most attractive movements are the Andante second movement of D 32—a plaintive song in A-Minor of exquisite beauty, the final movement of D 36—a bouncy and tuneful Allegro, and the final movement of D 46—a rapid Allegro dance, all from the pen of a 15 to 16 year old. Other movements in these early quartets also make rewarding listening.


Four later quartets, before the final four quartets, are outstanding in their invention and musical line: the D-Major (D 74), the E?-Major (D 87), the B?-Major (D 112), and the G-Minor (D 173). I reserve a special place for the B?-Major, which is an astounding achievement, even for what we have come to expect from 18-year-old Franz Schubert. In the B?-Major, the first movement repeat is observed, which is necessary for architectural balance. The performance here is excellent except for one serious interpretive blunder. The remarkable Andante sostenuto G-Minor second movement is played with a tempo too fast to feel its intensity and to explore its profundity. The result is a glib, superficial account of remarkable music. The seven tutti fortissimo A?s that occur twice­—six bars, then three bars before the movement’s end—are diminished in their tonal shock by the preceding glibness. These A?s in the G-Minor key are possibly the forerunner of the D? appoggiatura before the final C of the C-Major Quintet. (Too fast an Andante sostenuto also plagues many otherwise distinguished performances of the second movement of the D 960 B? Piano Sonata. In a later paragraph, I discuss another Schubert Andante sostenuto “trap.”) The Lindsay String Quartet remains my favorite for the B? Quartet, with the shellac-disc transfer of the Busch Quartet version as an older-style favorite.


The last four string quartets are Schubert’s contribution to this musical form that further sustains it as the pinnacle of Western art. Among these four quartets, the only first movement repeat observed by the Verdi Quartet is that of the “Quartettsatz.” The choice to omit the others, while not one that I prefer, does not damage their architecture. It does, however, omit the opportunity for interpretive variation in the repeat, especially important for the G-Major Quartet. As Schubert progressed from the C-Minor to the A-Minor to the D-Minor to the G-Major, each was a step further into harmonic complexity and into departure from conventional tonal expectation. The Verdi Quartet performs these works in a manner that reveals their full complexity. Inner part-writing is clearly exposed, and interpretive choices offer new insights into the musical message. The “Quartettsatz” is played briskly, and serves as a valuable addition to versions by the Juilliard, Emerson, and Lindsay String Quartets. The Juilliard and Emerson String Quartets also include a 41-bar fragment of an A? Andante intended for a second movement—painfully brief because its extraordinary melodic content is so suddenly truncated. The “Complete” in the header of this review is therefore not strictly accurate.


The A-Minor Quartet is performed with relaxed tempos in all movements, but it never drags. This is a remarkable achievement because it enables the listener (at least this listener) the opportunity to absorb the inner part-writing complexity more patiently, but without loss of musical line. In the D-Minor Quartet, the merely modest initial attack and the relaxed tempo and insufficient crispness throughout the first movement detract from an otherwise excellent performance. The G-Minor variations on “Der Tod und das Mädchen” are the high point of this performance, as the Verdi Quartet probes their various moods. The final movement could use a crisper treatment throughout, but the closing bars are forcefully articulated to bring this great Quartet to a powerful conclusion. Other very good or better performances of the A-Minor and D-Minor Quartets come from the Juilliard, Emerson, and Lindsay String Quartets. Especially impressive is the Lindsay’s D-Minor, which receives a powerhouse performance, but not overdone. The Lindsays observe first-movement repeats.


I find Schubert’s G-Major Quartet to be musically attractive to the point of preoccupation. Perhaps it’s the persistence of semi-quavers and demi-semi-quavers that effect a nervousness, especially in the first movement. Cellist David Soyer of the Guarneri Quartet, describing the strenuous difficulties, both technical and emotional, that the G-Major presents for the performers, stated to author and conductor David Blum that he doubted that the Guarneri Quartet would tour with it, and he added “[T]he Budapest (String) Quartet once did so and decided ‘Never again!’” The Verdi Quartet plays the first movement with the same relaxed tempo approach as that of their A-Minor and D-Minor, and it works very well here. In fact, their first movement is outstanding. The cello line that starts the second movement (immediately after the opening bar that references Schubert’s Schiller song, Die Götter Grieschenlands ) is played very legato and as such is strikingly beautiful. (This referential opening bar is also found at the start of the third movement of the A-Minor Quartet and at the start of the last movement of the Octet.) The fortissimo that begins at bar 44 (at 3:10) and proceeds to bar 81 sets you at the edge of your seat, so intense is its drama and its tonal uncertainty. This section is in two equivalent, approximately 20-bar images, the second a semi-tone lower than the first. The tension that this tonality change sets up is unusual by going lower in pitch to become higher in tension. The Verdi Quartet is especially effective here. The third movement is fleet, with a trio section that is very songful, like a slow Deutsch (Tanz), which it essentially is. (Listen to the five Deutsche in this CD set to hear the similarity. Deutsche—German dances—are usually faster, but can have slow tempo parts.) The final movement is especially challenging to play because of the complexity of the interplay of instruments. The performance here is, for the most part, excellent. Especially notable is the B-Minor modulation (bar 209, at 3:53) where the playing is suitably more dramatic than in many other performances that I’ve heard. There are two notable disappointments in the Verdi’s playing of this movement. First, there is an extraordinarily beautiful, ear-catching second violin passage in C?-Minor (starting at bar 323, at 5:30) which is played here with insufficient expressiveness. Second, near the end of the movement, in the forte fortissimo tutti (from bar 672 to bar 679, at 10:23), the viola’s primary harmonization and second violin’s secondary harmonization, against repeated notes by the other two instruments, is indiscernible. This, when properly discernable, is thrilling stuff. Other performances of the G-Major that I find especially interesting are those of the Emerson String Quartet (the most effective), Juilliard String Quartet, the Budapest String Quartet (monaural, with several repeats omitted), the Lindsay String Quartet, and the pickup quartet of Kremer, Phillips, Kashkashian, and Ma. The latter two observe the first movement repeat. The latter pickup group is live and has poor microphone placement (I presume) for the cello. Yo-Yo Ma sounds weak, but it’s probably not his doing. The shellac-disc-transfer recording by the Busch Quartet is worth exploring to hear, in an older style, superb musicianship.


The String Quintet and the last five Beethoven quartets are regarded as the pinnacles of chamber music. I would add the G-Major Quartet to this group. Such categorizations, however, are too exclusive to be non-controversial. Let me say only that we are all most fortunate to have access to such music. The Verdi Quartet with (I presume from the Web) Martin Lovett, gives us an almost ideal performance of the Quintet. The first movement repeat is omitted, which is a mistake for reasons of architectural balance and the need to hear interpretive variation in the repeat. Otherwise, I cannot praise this performance highly enough. It outdoes in various ways its competitors: the Juilliard (with Bernard Greenhouse), the Budapest (with Benar Heifetz), the Lindsay (with Douglas Cummings), the Emerson (with Rostropovich), and Isaac Stern’s pickup group that also includes, in addition to Stern, Lin, Laredo, Ma, and Sharon Robinson. All, except for the Budapest, observe the first movement repeat. The playing by the Verdi Quartet has the inner part-writing clarity that is associated with the Emersons, has the sonorous sostenuto of the E-Major Adagio and the passion of its F-Minor middle section that is so well offered by Stern and company, and has the complex harmonies of the Scherzo and the probing D?-Major Andante sostenuto Trio that is so impressively done by the Juilliard and the Budapest. (This is another Schubert Andante sostenuto “trap” that can easily either schlep and sound lugubrious or sound uninspired by moving too quickly.) The final movement is at a relaxed tempo, which is all to the good and seems to be an often, but not always, judicious Verdi Quartet characteristic. This tempo is good in providing the needed strong contrast with the codal Più allegro , and with the Più presto that follows, to conclude the Quintet. Each of the recordings mentioned has much to offer, and no one offers everything, but the Verdi Quartet offers the best balance. One curious note about two different editions of the Scherzo movement. The Mandyczewski and Hellmesberger Edition published by Dover places the second repeat at the end of part b (of the a,a,b,b form). This has the effect of twice playing the final 27 bars, which clearly comprise a coda. The Verdi Quartet and the Juilliard String Quartet place the repeat before the occurrence of the coda—just before the fortissimo , 27 bars back from the end of the Scherzo. So did the Tokyo String Quartet and cellist Lynn Harrell in a recent concert at suburban Washington’s Strathmore Music Center. This latter structure chosen by the minority of three from this small sample makes more sense. The Mandyczewski and Hellmesberger Edition (taken from the Breitkopf & Härtel Edition) could be incorrect on this matter.


Enough already. No full traversal of this music can ever satisfy all tastes or can ever fully satisfy any single taste. Get this eight-disc set! Complement it with recommended individual alternatives!


FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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Works on This Recording

1.
Quartet for Strings no 1 in G minor/B flat major, D 18 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1810; Vienna, Austria 
2.
Quartet for Strings no 2 in C major, D 32 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Quartet for Strings no 3 in B flat major, D 36 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1812-1813; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Quartet for Strings no 4 in C major, D 46 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
5.
Quartet for Strings no 5 in B flat major, D 68 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
6.
Quartet for Strings no 6 in D major, D 74 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
7.
Quartet for Strings no 7 in D major, D 94 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1812; Vienna, Austria 
8.
Quartet for Strings no 8 in B flat major, D 112/Op. 168 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1814; Vienna, Austria 
9.
Quartet for Strings no 9 in G minor, D 173 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1815; Vienna, Austria 
10.
Quartet for Strings no 10 in E flat major, D 87/Op. 125 no 1 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Karin Wolf (Viola), Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
11.
Quartet for Strings no 11 in E major, D 353/Op. 125 no 2 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1816; Vienna, Austria 
12.
Quartet for Strings no 12 in C minor, D 703/Op. posth "Quartettsatz" by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Karin Wolf (Viola), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Matthias Ellinger (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1820; Vienna, Austria 
13.
Quartet for Strings no 13 in A minor, D 804/Op. 29 no 1 "Rosamunde" by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Karin Wolf (Viola), Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1824; Vienna, Austria 
14.
Quartet for Strings no 14 in D minor, D 810 "Death and the Maiden" by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1824; Vienna, Austria 
15.
Quartet for Strings no 15 in G major, D 887/Op. 161 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Karin Wolf (Viola), Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello),
Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1826; Vienna, Austria 
16.
Minuet for String Quartet in D major, D 86 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
17.
Minuets (5) for String Quartet, D 89 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin), Karin Wolf (Viola),
Matthias Ellinger (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1813; Vienna, Austria 
18.
Overture for String Quartet in C minor, D 8a by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Matthias Ellinger (Violin), Zoltán Paulich (Cello), Susanne Rabenschlag (Violin),
Karin Wolf (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Verdi Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1811; Vienna, Austria 

Sound Samples

String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29, No. 1, D. 804: I. Allegro ma non troppo
String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29, No. 1, D. 804: II. Andante
String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29, No. 1, D. 804: III. Minuetto: Allegretto - Trio
String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op. 29, No. 1, D. 804: IV. Allegro moderato
String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, D. 36: I. Allegro
String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, D. 36: II. Andante
String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, D. 36: III. Menuetto: Allegro ma non troppo - Trio
String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, D. 36: IV. Allegretto
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden": I. Allegro
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden": II. Andante con moto
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden": III. Scherzo. Allegro molto - Trio
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, "Death and the Maiden": IV. Presto
String Quartet No. 2 in C major, D. 32: I. Presto
String Quartet No. 2 in C major, D. 32: II. Andante
String Quartet No. 2 in C major, D. 32: III. Menuetto: Allegro
String Quartet No. 2 in C major, D. 32: IV. Allegro con spirito

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