Review Wigmore Hall
Should a reviewer admit to not having heard the first two of the Schubert quartets in this recital of early pieces before? Possibly not.Schubert's three later quartets are certainly core repertoire, but many of the 12 quartets he penned before the age of 18 are rare birds in the concert hall.
But what wonderfully colourful occasional visitors they are. And how brilliantly the Cuarteto Casals made them take wing at the start of their Wigmore survey. True, there is something rather gauche about the sometimes too predominantly unison writing of the C major quartet D32, composed when Schubert was 14. The influence of Haydn is obvious. But so is the emergence of the Schubertian vernacular voice, with the sad singing of the lead violin above the hushed tremolandos, the abrupt changes of light and shade, and the rhythmic insistence that seems as if it can go on for ever.
By the time of the B flat quartet D112, however, the now 16-year-old composer has put on long trousers. The structural ambition and the emotional poignancy of the writing have made giant steps. Were it not for some string intonation problems that interrupted the flow of the Casals' performance, one would have said this was an authoritatively successful rendering, perfectly summed up in the dark slide into nothingness of the haunting final chord of the slow movement.
The Casals' assurance in the E flat quartet D87 was even more impressive. The signature disquieting dislocations, the heart-stopping modulations and the scurrying obsessiveness are all there in this sometimes almost improvisatory piece. And it is astonishing how early in his career Schubert was able to craft quartets that allowed his lyric voice such imaginative yet disciplined scope. With Vera Martinez moving into Abel Tomàs' leader's chair for the second half – swapping roles Emerson Quartet-style – the eloquence of this humbling piece was ideally rendered.
Thursday 11 October 2012