30/01/2021

Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor (Death and the Maiden)

Amadeus Quartet

Deutsche Grammophon - 138 048 SLPM (1969)

Unlike the last VAW, which I felt was nice but uninvolving, this piece has a very definite sense of mood across all four movements, and in particular the second, Andante Con Moto, which is just fantastically mournful. As the title it's often given indicates, there's a sense of approaching death and doom, which is apparently because Schubert himself was not well around this time. That said, despite this background and the informal title, most of the piece is quite fast, but with a sort of desperate energy. Only the second movement is slow, starting with a kind of death march and moving to a powerful, stately melody. Great stuff.

When I first listened to this, I was slightly inclined to wonder if the slight tinny-ness of the sound was due to my record player or the recording - which originally dates from 1960, according to discogs.com. However, in part, I think it's because the string quartet format itself tends towards this: with two violins and a viola, there's a lot of high frequencies, with only the cello rounding out the sound at all. However, when I listened a bit more, I was grabbed by the melodies and the subtlety of the arrangement became a bit more apparent. Because there are only four parts to listen to, it's easier to appreciate how they work around each other (I mean, who can listen to all parts in an orchestra? Maybe a few people, but not me); I still prefer the sound of a full orchestra, but this manages a fair bit of drama and dynamics itself.

Filling up the space at the end of the record is a single movement from an uncompleted string quartet in C minor, which is fairly unmemorable. The recording itself is, as far as I can tell, not available on Spotify, although several other, probably later, recordings by the Amadeus quartet are, and well worth listening to. My copy is somewhat scratched (it's the same age as me, so you know, fair enough) and I still don't find that charming.

 

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