, April 2007
The eminent Kodály Quartet with this seventh volume has now completed its Schubert Quartet cycle, joining their previous Naxos sets of the complete string quartets of Haydn and Beethoven.
There are five scores, three of which were left incomplete, were composed early in Schubert’s career. Few would claim these chamber scores as masterworks but these fascinating off-cuts from the apprentice’s workbench deserve salvaging.
The Kodály trace their origins from meeting as students in 1966 at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest when they were then known as the Sebestyén Quartet. In 1970 they became known as the Kodály Quartet, a change that required official Government approval. Three of the Kodálys: violinist Tomás Sazbó; violist Gábor Fias and cellist János Devich had previously been Sebestyén Quartet members. The last original member Tomás Sazbó retired in 2006 after forty years service. Attila Falvay who joined the Kodálys in 1980 now leads the current line-up.
They have been highly prolific in the recording studio and made their reputation with the immense Naxos cycle of the ‘Complete String Quartets’ of Haydn in Budapest between 1991-2000; The cycle is available on single discs or as part of a 23 disc budget-price set on Naxos 8.502301. Despite personnel changes, on the evidence of these convincing performances, the Kodálys continue to uphold the greatest standards of the rich Hungarian string quartet tradition.
The opening work is the rarely heard Movement in C minor for String Quartet, D.103 from 1814. Known as theQuartettsatz,the score is a curiosity since it consists of a single incomplete movement. The C minor, D.103 score is not to be confused with the String Quartet in C minor, D.703 (1820) that is also commonly known as the Quartettsatz. Schubert, it seems, intended the D.103 score as a first movement to a full-length quartet that is no longer extant. The incomplete score has a slow and dark introduction then the mood lightens in sonata form. I love the way the Kodálys play with vigour and spirit in edgy, restless music - a young man’s angst.
The String Quartet No. 5 in B flat major, D.68 is an unfinished score from 1813 consisting of two outer Allegro movements. There is a high-spirited opening given here with gusto and biting attack and an enjoyable closing movement in the form of an Haydnesque Rondo that is played with an infectious jauntiness, accentuating the spiky rhythms.
The String Trio, D.471 was composed in 1816. The B flat major score for violin, viola and cello consists of an opening Allegro movement together with a fragmentary second movement marked Andante sostenuto that Schubert abandoned after only 39 bars. Here the Kodálys impress with attractive and expressive playing.. It’s not crucial but I would have liked the Andante sostenuto fragment to have been included.
An unusual and seldom-heard score the Five Minuets with six Trios for String Quartet, D.89 was composed in 1813. The first and fifth Minuets each has two trios, although; second and fourth Minuets lack a trio. Disappointingly the Kodálys in the Minuet No. 1 are laboured, lacking in vitality and lightness of touch, although, they seem bright and lively in the short Minuet No. 2. They are stately and sophisticated in the Minuet No. 3; skilfully revealing the dance-like qualities of the Minuet No. 4 providing a rustic, weighty character to the Minuet No. 5.
The closing score is the Overture in C minor for String Quintet; D.8 is an early work dating from 1811. Rich and characterful, the Overture in C minor in this performance assuredly contrast anger and agitation with vernal frolics.
The Kodály bring this Schubert series to a fine close with admirable performances. The cool and reasonably clear sound is of an acceptable standard as were the booklet notes.