January 24, 2005
The Yggdrasil Quartet plays lesser Schubert

Usually when caught short for a posting with midnight approaching, I shove up a picture, either hand done by some dead bloke, or one of mine done with my camera. But tonight, I'll give a plug for a CD, by the Yggdrasil Quartet. Funny name that: Yggdrasil. Still, I shouldn't grumble. I expect there are places in the world where "Micklethwait" raises a bit of a smirk.

SchubertDeathMaidenBIS.jpgAnyway, the Yggdrasil Quartet's recording of two Schubert quartets is, the bit of it I've listened to, very fine indeed.

I bought this CD because BIS have a reputation for superb recordings and all round technical excellence. I think that there is a special pleasure to be had from a really good recording of string quartet music, even if you can get used to a bad one. I was not disappointed. The CD cost me only £3, which is all part of how happy it made me. (I wouldn't dream of paying the full wack for a CD with pieces that I already have lots of CDs of.) So far I've only listened to the non-famous quartet on it, Number 10 in E flat major opus 125 no. 1.

I don't know this quartet very well. I know Death and the Maiden, the other piece on this CD, but not Number 10. And the less magnificent a piece of music is, the more important is the sound that it makes, and the sound that this piece makes in these hands is real Rolls Royce stuff.

Critics are fond of praising technically less than perfect string quartet playing to the skies and beyond. What matters to them is the music , and not the sound that it makes. With some music, I agree. But with string quartets, I really like it when the harmonies are truly harmonious to the point of heavenliness. So much of string quartetness is harmony that if harmony is done badly, that utterly spoils it.

My most favourite string quartet performance of all is the Quartetto Italiano's recording on Philips of Beethoven's Opus 132, the slow movement being a high point. This music, as composed and heard by the already deaf Beethoven, sounds perfect, absolutely perfect. And the playing of it must be absolutely perfect too. Musical but imperfect is, for me, no use at all. And the Quartetto Italiano make a sound that is as near to the sound of heaven as you will ever hear on this earth, which as far as atheist me is concerned means ever full stop.

I wouldn't put the playing of the Yggdrasil quite in this class, but it is very good. And maybe their Death and the Maiden will be even better.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:12 PM
Category: Classical music