Franz Schubert Der Tod Und Das Madchen Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

You'd have to be a real hater of too-presto prestos not to be seduced by these musicians.

Charlotte Gardner 2008

Musical history is peppered with stories of luke-warm or downright disastrous premieres of now-beloved works, from riots over Stravinsky's Rite of Spring to an under-rehearsed orchestra and over-stuffed programme for Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The path to greatness rarely runs smoothly, it seems. So it was for Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen, or Death and the Maiden, which was originally received with ''by no means unanimous approval''. Perhaps if the Jerusalem Quartet had been around back then, things may have gone better.

This new disc for Harmonia Mundi features two quartets composed whilst Schubert was in the grip of the syphilis which would kill him aged just thirty one. First is the incomplete Quartettsatz in C minor, D.703 or Quartet Movement. Then, Der Tod und das Mädchen, or the Death and the Maiden quartet, which borrows its name and a theme from Schubert’s lied of the same title. Both quartets push the accepted boundaries of form and sensibility that had been established by Beethoven. Both have orchestral qualities; they probably would have been ripe candidates for orchestration had Schubert been that way inclined and lived long enough to do so.

The Jerusalem Quartet give a performance that is mature of insight whilst imbued with youthfulness and vigour. In the Quartettsatz they deal confidently and effectively with the dramatic shifts in mood and dynamic, making its unfinished state all the more tantalising. Their sound is at times nothing short of radiant. Then, Der Tod und das Mädchen positively zings with energy. It is a raw, dynamic and driven performance. The Presto is occasionally a bit too presto for my taste, feeling as if it is about to run away, but there is no denying its dramatic tension, and perhaps it is these young musicians' feel for the dramatic that so successfully brings out the music’s orchestral qualities. In any case, you'd have to be a real hater of too-presto prestos not to be seduced by these musicians.

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