Cuarteto Casals, Wigmore Hall, London
Teenage Franz Schubert’s prime goal may have been the composition of songs and symphonies, but he was also a prolific composer of string quartets, and this was virtually a social obligation.
The quartet he formed with his father and brothers was typical of early 19th century Vienna, where all socially-aspiring young people were expected to play Hausmusik whether talented or not.
The greatest quartet composers of all time - Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven - had just shown what could be achieved with the form, and Schubert couldn’t wait to add his voice to theirs. His mature quartets are embedded in the repertoire but his early attempts are seldom performed, so it was an excellent idea for the Cuarteto Casals to devote two recitals to them.
In the String Quartet D18, which he composed when he was thirteen, the spirit of Haydn hovers benignly over the introduction before the Allegro whirls us off in a blaze of tremolando intensity. The counterpoint is stilted, and one hears Beethoven in the spacious Andante, but even at this early stage one can sense the seeds of Schubert’s future greatness.
Written respectively three and five years later, the quartet in C D46 and the G minor D173 quartet show a remarkably rapid professional development. In the first of these one can hear how Mozart’s voice has been harnessed to Schubert’s purpose, while the stylistic device which gives the finale of his last piano sonata its character is already to be heard here.
The second of these works, written when the composer was 18, is fully-fledged Schubert, with a ravishing Andantino and a finale where the composer skips between the keys with sure-footed grace. What’s striking is the way, even at the beginning of his career, Schubert knew when to shut up: his natural self-discipline precludes the verbosity which mars most other composers’ early works.
The teenage quartets in the second programme offered similar pleasures. The Andante of D32 was an exquisite romance, while the Adagio of the D87 could have been by Haydn but was no less ravishing for that. At other moments one could watch Schubert trying out effects and playing games with key-changes, almost always successfully.
And one couldn’t have wished for better advocates than the Cuarteto Casals, whose warm, full-toned playing was immaculate and poetic throughout.
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'