Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartet in c,
String Quintet in C
Artemis Qrt; Truls Mørk (vc)
VIRGIN 502113 (62:50)
Of the Artemis Quartet’s 10 listed CDs—not a large number for an ensemble that has been in existence for almost 15 years—all but this new release, to the best of my knowledge, are with
the ensemble’s former roster of players. In 2007, half of the group turned over. Gregor Sigl replaced violinist Volker Jacobsen, and Friedemann Weigle replaced violist Heime Müller. Violinist Natalia Prischepenko and cellist Eckart Runge survived the changing of the guard. With this, the first recording of the reconstituted ensemble, it may be too soon to make definitive pronouncements. In reviews of previous releases with the original lineup of personnel, I’ve waxed both enthusiastic and cool. My initial reaction to this new recording is mainly positive.
The single movement String Quartet in C Minor, D 703, nicknamed “Quartettsatz,” is yet another of Schubert’s many missile launches that fell short of its target. His failure to complete the piece can in no way be attributed to an early demise, for he began work on it as early as 1820. Significantly, however, like the “Unfinished” Symphony, the C-Minor “Quartettsatz” stands at the end of a line of development in a particular genre and points the way in a new direction. Schubert may have abandoned this quartet as he was perhaps not yet fully prepared for where it was leading and how to proceed. Those uncertainties would not be overcome until the last three string quartets—the A-Minor “Rosamunde” and D-Minor “Death and the Maiden” of 1824, and the G-Major of 1826. The rarely heard Andante, here tacked on to the “Quarttetsatz” by the Artemis, is believed to be a sketch for what might have become the work’s second movement. It trails off after 41 bars. The Artemis players bring a great deal of nervous tension and dynamic contrast to the Allegro assai movement, which is exactly what it calls for.
The C-Major String Quintet is Schubert’s last and without a doubt greatest chamber work for strings only. And as with many of his late works, whole pages of it reek of death and in the end, like Elektra in her mounting frenzy, dance themselves to their ecstatic and triumphant destruction. Schubert darkens his score with a second cello added to the standard string quartet complement, substituting it for the second viola Mozart chose for his string quintets. One has only to listen to the serpentine second theme in the first movement as it winds around itself, seducing the ear into its deadly embrace.
The Artemis takes the lengthy first movement exposition repeat, extending the movement to nearly 20 minutes. This balances the nearly equal length and weight of the almost static ethereal Adagio, and the combined length and weight of the two concluding movements. It’s a finely judged and beautifully nuanced performance, but the Artemis players are facing some mighty tough competition here. Among my personal favorites are the Emerson Quartet joined by Rostropovich, the Alban Berg Quartet with Heinrich Schiff, the Hagen Quartet, also with Heinrich Schiff (no longer listed domestically but probably available as an import on Deutsche Grammophon), and a fairly recent release on Profil with the Vogler Quartet and the fantastically talented young cellist, Daniel Müller-Schott. What attracts me to the above-mentioned performances—and what I find at an ever so slightly reduced temperature in this new Artemis reading—is the tightly wound hysteria and sense of impending disaster that permeate this masterpiece. The Artemis players are just a bit more relaxed and laid back in their approach, which may well appeal to those who find Schubert’s Quintet overwrought enough as it is without needing any help to push it over the edge.
That said, this is a work too important in the chamber music repertoire to be represented in your collections by only one recording. The Artemis Quartet’s view is one more that is deserving of shelf space among several others. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Quintet for Strings in C major, Op. 163/D 956 by Franz Schubert
Natalia Prischepenko (Violin),
Gregor Sigl (Violin),
Friedemann Weigle (Viola),
Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello),
Eckart Runge (Cello)
Artemis String Quartet
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
Length: 51 Minutes 15 Secs.
Quartettsatz in C minor D.703: I Allegro assai
Quartettsatz in C minor D.703: II Andante (Fragment)
String Quintet in C major D.956 (op. posth. 163): I. Allegro ma non troppo
String Quintet in C major D.956 (op. posth. 163): II. Adagio
String Quintet in C major D.956 (op. posth. 163): III. Scherzo (Presto) & Trio (Andante sostenuto)
String Quintet in C major D.956 (op. posth. 163): IV. Allegretto
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