SCHUBERT String Quartets Nos 13-15
Go straight to D810, Death and the Maiden. The two opening fortissimo motifs are like clarion calls. The Artemis Quartet are tersely explosive, fiery in attack, the sforzandos in the transition stabbing the air; yet the passing pianissimo chromatic passages just prior to that are caressing if no less intense. Consider too the turmoil the musicians rack up in the 12-bar A minor section of the exposition codetta, and perhaps smile at how bewitchingly the immediate switch to A major is accomplished. Mood-shifts are relentlessly exposed, like a fulminating third variation of the slow movement preceding a fierce Scherzo; and a compassionately delicate Trio preceding a tense, driving Presto finale, more concentrated than either the Belcea or Jerusalem Quartets.
Are there some echoes in D804, also in a minor key? The Artemis appear to be ambivalent, still sharp in attack and contrast but holding a taut line however much they melt into the lyrical. The Belcea have no doubts about the sombre sobriety of the music, their tone dark, the Minuet in A minor shadowy, even full of foreboding; and symbolised in the second part, when across five bars, the cello’s change of harmony from E minor to C sharp minor is very emotively shaped. The Artemis aren’t as poignant but enhance the movement’s stature by repeating both halves of the Minuet after the Trio.
And they don’t quail from summoning a power of greater magnitude to meet the expressions of ferocious inner states within D887. From the disruptive harmonic changes, G major/G minor and D major/D minor at the beginning, the Artemis enlarge perceptions, push frontiers and perhaps question received wisdom. Be it the first violin’s agonisingly screaming upward glissandos in the shocking second section of the slow movement or the soulful longing of the Trio, rending fortissimos or louring pianissimos, the Artemis mix rectitude with pliant management of phrase, bleak sonority with searching involvement to paint a frightening evocation of content. Recreative abundance breaks barriers, as it does rather differently with the Belcea. You’d gain by owning both ensembles – and the Jerusalem too.