Notes and Editorial Reviews
Schubert's last string quartet is so ahead of its time, and so symphonic in its scale and utterance, that some ensembles (most notably the Alban Berg Quartet) play it in a manner that suggests orchestral weight and sonority. The Kuss Quartett takes the opposite approach by employing lean textures and spare vibrato--there's no doubt that we are hearing merely four instruments. But what a sound they make! The music's dynamic extremes will surely startle the unacquainted in this performance. Yet even in the loudest tutti passages the players take great care that every melodic strand is audible.
The Kuss' sound is redolent of period-performance practice which, as with the aforementioned limited vibrato, prioritizes raw power over
romantic prettiness. This is especially the case in the second movement (Andante), where the musicians' exacting note values makes the central stormy episode sound cruelly curt. To be sure, this is not a warm rendition in the manner of the Verdi Quartett, but one that is all but impossible to turn your attention away from, even when the Kuss plays the long first-movement exposition repeat. My only concern is in the finale, where on the main theme's fourth note the Kuss reads Schubert's sforzando marking as ritardando. It's interesting the first time, but as the players repeat this at every single appearance, it soon starts to sound like a mannerism.
Berg's String Quartet turns out to be an apt coupling as the Kuss makes it understandable that the Schubert was as shocking to its 19th-century audiences as the Berg was at its 1911 premiere. Again the players illuminate the music's inner voices with impressive clarity. Despite the atonal language, Berg in this piece held onto romantic styles and traditions, and the music's passion comes through forcefully in the Kuss' captivating performance. The vivid, high impact recording is icing on the cake.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
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