The Dark Side of Schubert

The Jerusalem Quartet throws itself into the intense, bleak music of Schubert’s famous ‘Death and the Maiden’ Quartet.

Composer: Schubert
Repertoire: String Quartet No.12, ‘Quartettsatz’; String Quartet No.14, ‘Death and the Maiden’
Artists: Jerusalem Quartet

Rating: 5/5

Genre: Instrumental
Label: Harmonia Mundi HMC 901990

Schubert’s late works may be melodically glorious, but emotionally they are no picnic. The composer, who had suffered from syphilis since his mid-twenties and died aged just 31, experienced a polarity of passion for life and despair over the nature and likely outcome of his illness. In his famous D minor String Quartet No.14, ‘Death and the Maiden’, with its central variations on his song of that title portraying death as a welcome release, Schubert is often at his bleakest. There’s the starkly violent opening, shudders of fear and doubt in the variations, and tremendous nervous energy in the finale, a sort of dance-of-death of a kind he explored in a number of works from around the same period.

In its performance of this great work, the Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky, first violin, Sergei Bresler, second violin, Amichai Grosz, viola, Kyril Zlotnikov, cello) never shies away from Schubert’s dark side. The eloquent tone of Pavlovsky’s violin can be sweet and persuasive, but the way that the group completely throws itself into the harsher moments, sometimes risking beauty for the sake of emotional truth, helps to make this an exceptionally rewarding account of the work, honest and all-encompassing. 

The small but perfectly formed ‘Quartettsatz’ String Quartet No.12 is the ideal companion piece to the substantial ‘Death and the Maiden’, offering as it does a precognition of the conflicts that are to follow. The Quartet again brings its exciting and dynamic playing to the work.