The present recording features both one of the longest and one of the shortest quartets in the string quartet repertoire. There is no denying that Schubert´s last string quartet is great in every sense of the word, but Beethoven´s “Quartetto Serioso”, although minor in size, is by no means dwarfed by it when it comes to sheer artistic quality; both quartets are indeed major works and a staple on the diet of any string quartet of merit. Even so, the concept of minor and major immediately springs to mind when contemplating putting these two completely different masterpieces on the same album. Duration apart, there is the obvious question of tonality: one work in F minor, the other in G major, which is simple enough and by itself justifies the album title. But things get more complicated the moment we subject the two works to a closer scrutiny.
Total time: 01:04:31
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Horus, Merging Technologies
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Sennheiser HD-800 Headphones.
DPA 4041-S and DPA 4003
|Original Recording Format|
Jar Church, Norway in October and December 2015
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
B&W, PMC and DynaBel
|Release Date||February 1, 2019|
The Oslo String Quartet, formed in 1991, is now considered to be the most prestigious in Scandinavia. It is also making a variety of albums which are also much praised. For example, their recordings of Carl Nielsen’s quartets won them a 1999 “Editor’s Choice” nomination in the international journal ‘The Gramophone’. Here are quotes from the opinions of the set: “Artistically it is the finest at any price point … totally dedicated, idiomatic performance … full of vitality and spirit and refreshingly straightforward”. A possible factor in the Quartet’s success is their current possession of fine instruments loaned from “Dextra Musica”, a subsidiary of Sparebankstiftelsen DNB, which, since 2006, has bought valuable string instruments with the purpose of loaning them to Norwegian musicians.
The Oslo Quartet here provides an interesting pair of Viennese String Quartets from Beethoven and Schubert respectively. The recording begins with Beethoven’s Quartet no. 11 in F minor op. 95, one of his shortest, and the last in his ‘Second Period’, where it was isolated in form. Generally, though it was composed in Oct. 1810, it was not performed until 1814. However, the paper on which it appears does not match the variety Beethoven is known to have used at that time. It is more likely that he finished it several months later. He, himself, named the quartet “Quartetto Serioso” and indicated that it “was written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public.” The work has a mass of anger in various forms, likely to be derived from Napoleon’s invasion of Vienna by earlier that year, and this upset Beethoven greatly.
Schubert’s Quartet No. 15 in G major (1826), is the last of his string quartets and stands alongside the famous D minor Quartet (“Death and the Maiden”) as proof that the composer was well on his way to writing large-scale works in all genres. Symphonic in organization and structure, it achieves a depth of sound that often belies the presence of only four musicians. In its scope and difficulty, it typifies Schubert’s later works.
Overall, Oslo String Quartet carefully exercise their technical talents together with their excellent interpretations and clarity in balancing the four instruments, so making their sound a real experience. Also, 2L’s recording aids the highly detailed sound produced by the OSQ. For Beethoven’s Quartet 11, Beethoven’s elements of dark fury merged with gentle reproach, thus reflecting the composer’s feeling in an invaded city.
In Schubert’ s lengthy Quartet no. 15, OSQ has to attend to all the many changes in tension realistically, for example in the Scherzo which has a country feel with a tender soft swaying Trio – and a touching end to the last movement, where its 6/8 moto perpetuo just gently fades to nothing. Schubert also introduces a number of experimental textures, an unusual one in which the lower three strings together play vibrating chords with a floating melody above, a mysterious ‘pianissimo tremolando’ – which appears several times in most of the movements.
Jar Church, Norway was the venue (a commonly used building for recording). The very helpful booklet photos show OSQ in a semicircle at the top of the nave, quite close to the mic array; there is also a coloured photo of the array itself. Interestingly, the cellist (Øystein Sonstad) is positioned a little further out of the semi-circle, sitting on a low table which appears to be metallic. Presumably, this was to moderate the cello tone in some way and get its best from the Jar’s resonance. Schubert, at the beginning of his work, didn’t use the cello in playing his music to the public; his father was a cellist but not very well trained, so Schubert waited to write quartets until he left home. Once again the 2L recording is superb; the musicians are slightly closer to the mics, and the Jar resonant background is hardly heard until the music stops.
A pair of marvellous string quartets are played with great admiration and packed with a mass of material to make them play as well as they can in their music room. What else could you do?
Performance – 4.5 of 5 stars
Stereo Sonics – 4.5 of 5 stars
Multichannel Sonics – 5 of 5 stars
The Oslo String Quartet delivers captivating performances of two outstanding Beethoven and Schubert quartets. The playing is intensely expressive and nonetheless at once refined and euphonious. These are great works in great interpretations!
The last of the middle string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven in f minor op. 95 with the title ‘Quartetto serioso’ and the last quartet of Franz Schubert in G major (D. 887) can be found on this album with the ‘Oslo String Quartet ‘.
The compositionally highly concentrated work of Beethoven originated in a personal mood valley after the rejection of two of him made marriage proposals from which he or he does not escape. The compressed composition excludes all transitions and relaxed sections and therefore forms a counterpart to the gloomy expression. This reduction places high demands on the listener. And so Beethoven had opened his own way to his late quartets.
Just as uncompromising is the almost twice as long final quartet by Schubert. In addition to the duration of the performance, the harmonies breaking through the conventions of that time, as well as the direction of the sound, put it next to the late Beethoven Quartets, thus pointing, as they did, towards the 20th century. Thus, the main theme in the scherzo of Schubert is passed through all twelve notes on the scale.
Now performing for more than a quarter of a century, the ‘Oslo String Quartet’ has established itself as a versatile ensemble and remains open to new ways beyond classical operation. But there is no disadvantage to the interpretation of these two works. Rather, the openness and enthusiasm for the classical repertoire seem unbroken.
In the case of Beethoven, the four musicians succeed in compellingly challenging, almost tormenting the listener, just as the compositional style suggests. With Schubert, the larger bows and the further unfoldings are played out, without causing exaggeration or breaking off the design thread. The fact that the homogeneity and sound formation due to the long common path of the musicians meets the highest standards, cannot be surprised. Despite the sometimes rugged compositions, the expression maintains a great euphony. Great works, great presented!
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