Amadeus Quartet

Britten, Schubert: String Quartets

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Though a little extreme around the edges, it is hard to resist this recording of the Amadeus Quartet's 1977 recital at the Schwetzinger Festspiele. The principal reason is Britten's Third String Quartet. Written in November 1975, with the Amadeus Quartet in mind, the Third Quartet was Britten's last work in the form, as well as his next-to-last work, and a spirit of leave-taking suffuses the score. The Amadeus prepared the work under the composer's guidance but gave the premiere in December 1976 in his absence; Britten had died two weeks earlier. This recording comes from five months later, and one can still feel the love and loss in the Amadeus' performances. With a ripe but bright tone and tight but supple ensemble, the Austrian-English quartet is a perfect fit for the work, and its interpretation is so deeply felt that it almost, but not quite, exceeds the boundaries of good taste. Like the hard-driven account of Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet, the ensemble's performance is not always entirely together, with some occasional intonation problems and a certain roughness of tone wholly unlike the group's smooth tone in its DG recordings. But so impassioned is the reading that it is all but irresistible. Hänssler Classics' live recording is likewise a bit extreme, but also vivid, immediate, and very, very present.

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