March 2007

Schubert - String Quartets in D minor, D. 810 ("Death and the Maiden"), and A minor ("Rosamunde"), D. 804
Takács Quartet
Hyperion CDA67585
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

On a different label and in a further reconstitution (the excellent Geraldine Walther, late of the San Francisco SO, is now the foursome’s violist), the Takács Quartet completes its coverage of Schubert’s great final triptych of string quartets begun ten years ago with its Decca recording of the last and greatest, the expansive and otherworldly G major (D.887). These are not indulgent or sentimentalized realizations, but performances that show respect for the composer and the highest flattery for the listener by acknowledging that Schubert’s songfulness does not need special pleading, and focusing on the structure and substance that give these well-beloved works the power to surprise and stun with their audacious intimations of freedom and urgency.

Gustav Mahler, who cited his own songs in his symphonies, made a very effective string-orchestra arrangement of the D minor Quartet, in which Schubert used one of his own as the subject of the variations that constitute the slow movement, and may well have been motivated by a bond he felt with another great song composer whose instrumental works had to wait for posthumous recognition. But such speculation, while possibly intriguing, is quite beside the point, which is simply that these are deeply felt, exceptionally communicative responses to the remarkable material, on a level of intimacy (as well as expertise) that can make a chamber-music experience memorable, whether live or recorded -- particularly when the recording is as natural-sounding as this one. In short: not a sweeping replacement for existing favorites, but definitely a benchmark issue for our time.