Jaap Schröder / Skálholt String Quartet

Franz Schubert: Quartet in G major, D. 887

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The Skálholt Quartet is a group of Icelandic players associated with the small Skálholt Cathedral in Iceland, gorgeously pictured in the booklet for this release. The quartet has been joined by the veteran Dutch violinist and historical-performance specialist for a series of recordings exploring applications of the ideas of the historical-performance movement to early Romantic repertoire. Playing period instruments (nowhere do you learn exactly which ones), the quartet, with Schröder on first violin, offers an unusual and compelling interpretation of the big String Quartet in G major, D. 887, of Schubert. The tempos will be the first noticeable thing, with a pretty normal Allegro molto moderato (whatever that's supposed to mean) in the first movement, an extremely brisk Andante and Scherzo, and a slower-than-normal finale. The group's aim, stated by Schröder, is to achieve articulation "more to the declamation of a text than to the singing of an endless melody," and to that end there is the usual vibrato-free string sound and brusque attacks common to historically oriented performances. Plainly this is not an album for those who listen to Schubert for the tunes, but the big first movement doesn't flag in intensity, and the whole thing offers the pleasures of an entirely novel interpretation, executed well. The church provides a better sound environment than do most other ecclesiastical buildings, offering an intimacy that's in line with the players' aims.

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