Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet in d,
Op. 76/2 H III:76.
String Quartet in d,
D 810, “Death and the Maiden.”
CHANNEL 34613 (69:00)
This Dutch quartet, Rosa Arnold, Jeanita Vriens, violins; Annemijn Bergkotte, viola; and Geneviève Verhage, cello; is new to the circuit and has, as
with most of the quartets produced by the Dutch String Quartet Academy, been getting good reviews in its concerts. This is its first commercial recording.
Haydn’s late “Fifths” quartet—because of the many iterated fifths in the first movement—has always been reasonably popular. The Ragazze explode into this movement, taking it at a sprightly, not to say enthusiastic, clip. Indeed, this is one of the faster performances I know of, but that is also because they cut the second repeat in the movement. This shaves a minute off the even faster reading by the Buchberger Quartet, who do take that repeat, and the best part of three off the more poised period-instrument account by the Quatuor Mosaïques. The remaining movements then settle down into something closer to the common tempos. Given the tempos and the quartet’s slightly aggressive sound, it is hard to see why they think this quartet is about death just because it is in D Minor (which the notes assert to be “the key of death,” though the maiden’s demise in the Schubert quartet actually takes place in G Minor). Indeed, their playing is full of life and exuberance. They play dead in tune and have an enviable
which yet retains its tone. This isn’t the only way to read this quartet, and I wish they had made that repeat, but I quite enjoyed it.
Coupling this with Schubert’s most well-known and often heard quartet may have been a marketing strategy. It almost works. They take the first movement in an angry frame of mind, it seems to me, so it is more oppressive than threatening. For all the beautiful playing in the second movement, there just doesn’t seem to be the weight or the darkness to underline the fearfulness we know is in the song (whose words we cannot escape hearing in our mind’s ear): There is something oddly bloodless in this reading, though things do heat up in the last movement. Now, to be sure, it is a legitimate question whether or not we ought to be “hearing” those words and calling up the stark and simple image in the text. One may argue that it is “only” a tune to work with, but most commentary hangs around Schubert’s desperate circumstances at the time and its assumed connection with both song and quartet. I suppose, then, that we ought to think of fishing when we hear the Piano Quintet, D 667, “The Trout.”
JörgWidman’s (b. 1973) single movement Third Quartet starts with a rude parody of a theme from Schumann and uses a number of non-traditional techniques, including shouting, to make its point. Its 11 minutes require a great deal of energy and must have been a lot of fun to watch at its premiere in 2003.
It is a pleasure to welcome Ragazze to the contemporary quartet fray, and it will be interesting to see what direction they will take in the coming years. This program is a most unusual and welcome calling card.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 3 by Jörg Widmann
Annemijn Bergkotte (Viola),
Rosa Arnold (Violin),
Jeanita Vriens (Violin),
Geneviève Verhage (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
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