Franz Schubert’s choral works have certainly never achieved the popularity or the impact of his late symphonies, of some of the piano and chamber works, or of his best-known songs. And yet his extensive choral oeuvre is no less important, and no less characteristic….
Following the Artemis Quartet‘s prizewinning Beethoven Quartet cycle on Virgin Classics, the Berlin-based ensemble has recorded Schubert’s last three quartets, works that Artemis cellist Eckart Runge praises for both their “incredible simplicity and purity” and their “almost terrifying modernism”. Awarded both Germany‘s prestigious Klassik ECHO award and France’s Grand Prix de l’Académie Charles Cros in 2011 for their Virgin Classics Beethoven cycle, the members of the Artemis Quartet now release an all-Schubert CD. It presents the composer’s final three string quartets: No 13 in A minor, ‘Rosamunde’ (which draws on his incidental music for Helmina von Chezy’s play Rosamunde); No 14 in D minor, ‘Death and the Maiden’ (with its haunting second movement based on his song Der Tod und das Mädchen), and No 15 in G major.
Ever since Beethoven wrote his last piano sonata and called it "Opus 111", the number 111 has enjoyed certain kudos in musical circles, and 2009 marks the 111th anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon.
Over 11 decades, the label's philosophy has always been “the greatest recordings by the greatest artists in the world” and now they showcase this with this incredible 55 CD box set.
In nearly every respect this is outstanding. The Rondo brillant and the Fantasie, both written for the virtuoso duo of Karl von Bocklet and Josef Slawik, can sound as if Schubert were striving for a brilliant, flashy style, foreign to his nature. Both are in places uncomfortable to play (when first published, the Fantasie’s violin part was simplified), but you would never guess this from Faust’s and Melnikov’s performance; they both nonchalantly toss off any problem passages as though child’s play. The Fantasie’s finale and the Rondo brillant are irresistibly lively and spirited, and this duo’s technical finesse extends to more poetic episodes – Melnikov’s tremolo at the start of the Fantasie shimmers delicately, while the filigree passagework in the last of the variations that form the Fantasie’s centrepiece have a delightful poise and sense of ease.
There's nothing at all wrong with Maurizio Pollini's 2009 performance of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The Italian pianist's intellectual lucidity, interpretive clarity, and technical virtuosity are apparent in every prelude and fugue, and his probing insights and penetrating analysis inform every note. However, there is almost nothing right with the sound quality of the recording. The piano sounds too distant, making it hard to hear precisely what Pollini is doing, but oddly, the ambient sound is too present, making every extraneous noise too loud. One should not hear the pedals being pressed and lifted, much less the clatter of the hammers and the twanging of the strings above the sound of the music. Worse yet, one can hear what sounds like every breath Pollini takes nearly as loudly as every note he plays. These are all grievous flaws that should have been eliminated, and their presence fatally undermines the brilliance of Pollini's performances. A reengineered version of these performances would be most welcome, but the present recording is so flawed that it virtually destroys Pollini's playing.
Hyperion’s Record of the Month for October marks the debut on the label by the Takács Quartet. After seventeen years recording for Decca, including multi-awarding-winning cycles of quartets by Beethoven and Bartók, this thrilling ensemble is now embarking on a new relationship with Hyperion; future projects will include works by Brahms, Janácek and Schumann. Schubert’s famous String Quartet, D810, subtitled ‘Death and the Maiden’, is one of the pillars of the repertoire. This new performance is electrifying, and was recorded following a global concert series, enthusiastically welcomed in the press: ‘The Takács’ reading of the second movement was characterized by unremitting pain and mystery.