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Hyperion Records

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Ahasuerus at the End of the World by Adolph Hiremy-Hirschl (1860-1933)
Private Collection / The Maas Gallery, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67585
Recording details: May 2006
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Chris Hazell
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2006
Total duration: 35 minutes 58 seconds

'The Takács have the ability to make you believe that there's no other possible way the music should go, and the strength to overturn preconceptions that comes only with the greatest performers' (Gramophone)

'Schubert's two most accessible quartets receive interpretations on this disc which are as near ideal as one is ever likely to hear' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Death and the Maiden is a deeply affecting reading with the violin of Edward Dusinberre tenderly conveying the maiden's vulnerability and the mounting panic as she is stalked by the insistent death march of the other three instruments. The musicians capture Schubert's distinctive blend of beauty and angst' (The Observer)

'This superb CD is [The Takács Quartet's] first for Hyperion: immaculate playing and sublime beauty' (The Independent)

'This is intense music-making of very high quality indeed' (International Record Review)

'It is a considerable coup for Hyperion to sign up the Takács Quartet. They are currently the greatest string quartet in the world … the first product of the group's new partnership is outstanding … the recording quality is ideal—natural, never aggressive. This disc is a model for what chamber music should be' (The Guardian)

'The sharpness and subtlety of this Death and the Maiden takes it to the top of available versions. With this superb disc the collaboration couldn't have got off to a better start' (The Times)

'The quartets … receive performances that do radiant justice to their genius. That of the D minor is prodigious. I have never heard the panic-stricken finale—music whose audacities still take the breath away—played more ferociously. The Takács also find memorably hushed sounds for the twilight world that much of both works inhabits' (The Sunday Times)

'Edgy, inspired playing, with enough broody lyricism to set the atmosphere of the A minor's opening in a few notes, and to balance its outwardly more cheerful finale with a disingenous wistfulness that tells us we're hearing the tip of Schubert's emotional iceberg. Death and the Maiden is given a high-octane treatment that exposes Schubert's raw nerve-endings with strong tempi and a near-violent intensity of tone' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Another great achievement of this recording is the sound. The engineers really surpassed themselves; it is natural, reverberant and crystal clear—always bright and detailed. The Takács Quartet's move from Decca to Hyperion certainly seems to be a successful marriage … a worthy contender among the elite of Schubert string quartet recordings' (Fanfare, USA)

'The ensemble, even with a new viola player, is impeccable—this is still a quartet that sounds as though it breathes and thinks as one – and some of leader Edward Dusinberre’s playing is intensely beautiful. The recording is superb: up close and personal, so all the detail’s there, yet there’s enough ambient detail to stop it from becoming too invasive. It’s the first recording the Takács has made for its new label Hyperion, and they must be thrilled with it' (CDReview)

'The impassioned beginning of Death and the Maiden sweeps all before it, and the jittery refrain from the finale sounds like a madman's jig, different each time it appears, too. The Rosamunde is simply heartbreaking. The playing from all four instruments is spectacular in its force and finesse. For once, that abused term 'definitive' is absolutely justified' (The Dallas Morning News)

'Now, with veteran San Francisco Symphony principal violist Geraldine Walther replacing their former violist, their new recording that pairs Schubert's Death and the Maiden and Rosamunde string quartets (Hyperion) retains if not magnifies the same impact. The essential interplay and cooperation between viola and cello that make the slow movement of Death and the Maiden sing with such devastating eloquence are reinforced by the heart-breaking sweetness and forceful cries of first violinist Edward Dusinberre. These are great musicians, with veteran second violinist Karoly Schranz and cellist Andras Fejer equally eloquent. The performance is riveting, as shattering as it is ultimately uplifting. If the Rosamunde quartet represents a gentler excursion into melancholy, it is no less filled with beauty. Here again, the extraordinary oneness between the members of the quartet enriches musicianship as thought through as it is alive to every moment. What keeps the playing fresh is the tension and the constant interplay of pitch, rhythm, and nuance that declare Schubert's emotions as real and relevant today as they were close to two centuries ago' (Bay Area Reporter, USA)

'If their recent Hyperion debut is any indication, everything is pretty copacetic. The recordings capture the quartet's ability in concert to build a seemingly spontaneous rhetorical structure for its characteristic drive, fire and focus, while making each member of the audience feel that the quartet is playing for him or her alone … Hyperion has outdone itself for the release, choosing for the CD cover Hungarian artist Adolph Hiremy-Hirsch's darkly intense 1888 painting 'Ahasuerus at the End of the World', which powerfully reflects the composer's transformation of death into something beautiful' (Strings, USA)

'These are warm and insightful performances of two of Schubert's most affecting chamber music works, both written during a period of intense depression. Though they remain some of the bleakest music of his career, these two string quartets still demonstrate Schubert's sublime melodic gift, and with this disc the Takács Quartet makes a valuable addition to the recorded catalog of these important pieces. Recommended' (CD Hotlist, USA)

'Hyperion already has cornered the market with its roster of top pianists, and with this release the label looks about ready to do so with string quartets as well. On evidence here, the new partnership is operating in top form … Death and the Maiden is frighteningly intense in its outer movements, with driving rhythms and a real feeling of danger, of music making 'on the edge' in the concluding tarantella … Hyperion's sonics do them proud. Music lovers have much to enjoy, and much to look forward to in this and future releases' (ClassicsToday.com)

'This is superb quartet-playing, the quality of which becomes even more formidable over several listens … the latest stage of the Takács Quartet's career has got off to a very impressive start' (ClassicalSource.com)

'Ein wunderbare Einspielung mit einem Quartett, das vielleicht bislang zu wenig Beachtung fand—Is there really a view of Schubert's String Quartet No 14 that hasn't yet been considered? Is it possible to add to the already countless number of interpretations one that is fresh and new? On hearing this recent recording by the Takács Quartet, the answer has to be 'Yes!' For here less emphasis is placed on Schubert's melodic language, and on the purely songlike, and much more weight is given to the sense of dramatic development so important in this work: an intensive interplay with the formal material, with the expressive power of communication itself. And so the Takács Quartet builds up a musical portrayal as intoxicating as it is charged with emotion, one of a kind that has never been heard before. Beauty of tone is not the main aim here, but rather the harmonious euphony of the different voices, here achieved so superbly: above all in the quartet's second movement, the variations, before melancholy and despair take a rest during the Presto, then culminate completely in the Tarantella of the Finale. The recording of the Quartet No 13, the so-called Rosamunde also shows the same approach of constant urgency, possibly expressing Schubert's intentions far better than the usual meticulously reproduced melodic treasury. A marvellous recording, by a quartet to which perhaps too little attention has been paid so far' (Ensemble, Germany)

'Certes nous n'avions 'besoin' d'une nouvelle interprétation des Quatuors La Jeune fille et la mort et Rosamunde, mais ce CD est imparable … les Takács ont plus que bien réussi leur entrée au catalogue Hyperion. Si leur version de La Jeune fille et la mort fait jeu égal avec les meilleurs, celle de Rosamunde se dégage vraiment comme un très grand moment de la discographie schubertienne' (ClassicsTodayFrance.com)

'Ces deux grands quatuors à cordes de 1824 sont ici réunis ensemble dans une interprétation absolument renversante du Quatuor Takács. D’un jeu pleinement engagé, ils s’adonnent à merveille aux gammes tourbillonnantes et aux rythmes endiablés de la Jeune fille et la mort, ne relâchant qu’occasionnellement la vive tension de la musique de Schubert. L’équilibre des quatre instruments est très bien ajusté, il y a vraiment un son d’ensemble sans qu’aucun des solistes ne soit exagérément privilégié. Il en résulte que l’on entend magnifiquement bien les voix intermédiaires, le second violon et l’alto se révélant notamment avec des guirlandes et des motifs resplendissants, trop souvent étouffés et négligés dans d’autres versions. Un disque événement à savourer sans plus attendre' (ResMusica.com, France)

String Quartet No 14 in D minor 'Death and the Maiden', D810
composer
1824; first published by Joseph Czernı in 1831

Allegro  [10'51]
Andante con moto  [12'23]
Presto  [9'04]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
If Schubert’s A minor Quartet is a work pervaded by an air of melancholy, its companion-piece, the String Quartet in D Minor D810 (‘Death and the Maiden’), is one that seems to give vent to despair. The song-fragment on which its slow movement is based, with its subject of youthful mortality, is one that must have given Schubert pause for thought; and the quartet as a whole goes so far as to cast all four of its movements in the minor—a surfeit of sombreness that will not be found in any work by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. Not even Tchaikovsky allowed himself to luxuriate in so much unrelieved tragedy in his ‘Pathétique’ Symphony, and we have to look instead to Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata to find a parallel case. It is true that Schubert’s variation movement closes with a heart-rending turn to the major—as do the theme and first two variations themselves—but the change is one that serves only to heighten the music’s poignancy.

Indeed, it is the bleakness of the context in which they appear that makes the two extended major-key sections of the ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet so moving. Those sections are the slow movement’s fourth variation, and the trio of the scherzo, and Schubert takes particular care to bind them together with the material that surrounds them. The slow movement’s major-mode excursion is joined seamlessly to the ensuing variation in the minor, which continues the music’s ‘rocking’ motion; while the trio’s accompaniment takes over the pervasive rhythm of the scherzo. Given the intensity of the scherzo itself, it is surprising to find that the opening of its second half quotes from a Ländler Schubert had written the previous year.

The quartet’s opening movement is characterized by a continual alternation between tension and relaxation. The triplet rhythm starkly set forth in its very first bars runs through the entire piece as a unifying force; but the main subject also features a calmer continuation—a chorale-like passage that clearly looks forward to the sombre theme of the slow movement to come. The main contrasting theme is a sinuous idea given out by the violins in mellifluous thirds and sixths, above a ‘rocking’ accompaniment from the two lower instruments. The central development section combines the rhythmic elements of both principal subjects, gradually building up the tension until it spills over into the start of the recapitulation, where the austere silences of the work’s beginning are filled in with upward-striving triplets on the three higher instruments. Towards the end, Schubert appears to be drawing the piece to an emphatic close, with a coda in a quicker tempo; but by a stroke of genius he allows the music to return to its original speed, and the piece sinks to a pianissimo close, as though all energy were spent.

For his finale, Schubert provides a tarantella of almost manic exuberance. His model is likely to have been the last movement of Beethoven’s famous ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata, and there are passages in the two works that are remarkably similar. Far more than Beethoven, however, Schubert appears to be extending an invitation to a dance of death. This time, he does allow himself a final peroration that finishes the work in helter-skelter style with an acceleration in tempo, as though the music were spiralling out of control, towards a vortex of doom.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2006

Other albums featuring this work
'Schubert: Death and the Maiden' (CDA30019)
Schubert: Death and the Maiden
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £8.50 CDA30019  Hyperion 30th Anniversary series  
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