SCHUBERT String Quartets D703, D887
Here we have a follow-up to the Doric’s acclaimed 2012 disc pairing the Rosamunde and Death and the Maiden, this time with the group’s revised line-up. Even in a work as well known as the Quartettsatz they lend character through elasticity of phrasing, which nicely counterbalances the piece’s inherent energy; while at moments such as the ffz accents near the beginning they avoid sounding as if they’re on a shooting range. As a whole, theirs is a more unearthly reading than the fine account from the Takács, the Doric palpably enjoying the myriad possibilities of pianissimo.
But the main event is the G major Quartet. And very impressive it is too, spacious without ever sounding ponderous. This is in part down to their minute attention to detail. Just sample the opening, with its unerringly balanced chords and almost vibrato-free imitative phrases. They have less forward thrust than the Busch here but are no less convincing, leading us unerringly through the shifting vistas of the Allegro molto moderato.
In the slow movement, they eschew the beauty that some find in the first theme, which makes the near hysteria of the second idea sound more inevitable. Perhaps too inevitable: to my ears the Belcea’s juxtaposition of gently sad nostalgia and near brutality is quite overwhelming, compared to which the Artemis’s finely wrought reading is just a tad saner.
The Doric’s Scherzo is brilliantly febrile and their precision in terms of dramatic juxtapositions of dynamics quite jaw-dropping; the yearning Trio is just sweet enough but not too much so. And they bring alive the finale’s jarring contrasts. Tempo-wise, this is not as driven as some accounts, notably the Belcea, who imbue the movement with a kind of yelping intensity, contrasting with the Busch, who still manage to find shards of charm in among the terrifying chase. But the Doric build up their own kind of relentlessness, one that becomes more potent on repeated hearings.
Superb notes from Bayan Northcott, too, though there’s a strange picture within the booklet in which the quartet look as if they’re embarking on a spot of rewiring. Maybe quartet-playing doesn’t pay these days…