MOZART; IVES; VERDI String Quartets
The Schumann Quartet – not named after Robert but after the three brothers who are its violinists and cellist – bring a distinctive style to this varied programme. Their bold, forthright manner puts emphasis on clear articulation and strong dynamic contrasts. This approach works least well, perhaps, in the Mozart; it’s a bright, lively performance, certainly, but detached notes can seem excessively short, with changes from piano to forte often overdone. The Quatuor Mosaïques, by contrast, bring out fully the cantabile nature of the themes. Where the Schumanns do this, particularly in the Andante, their playing has a truly appealing character.
The Schumann’s highly dramatic style works wonders in the Ives. The ‘Discussions’ of the first movement and the ‘Arguments’ of the second come vividly to life, while the sense of intense elation towards the close of the finale is achieved with great power. The Blair Quartet, with a narrower expressive range, make the music appear less way-out and perhaps better unified but I can’t help feeling that Ives would have approved of a more uncompromising manner.
It was instructive to compare this account of the Verdi with the Melos Quartet’s 1998 recording. The Schumann’s first movement gives the impression of an operatic conflict, the lyrical main themes contrasting violently with the agitated semiquaver figuration, whereas the Melos, with a more moderate manner, stress the movement’s introspective character. But the Schumann approach can be seen as equally valid; and in the finale of the quartet they have the edge, their brilliant, devil-may-care attitude trumping the more careful Melos.