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Friday, April 28, 2017

Franz Schubert; Alban Berg - String Quartets (Kuss Quartet)


Composer: Franz Schubert; Alban Berg
  1. Schubert - String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887 (Op. 161): I. Allegro molto moderato
  2. Schubert - String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887 (Op. 161): II. Andante un poco moto
  3. Schubert - String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887 (Op. 161): III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace - Trio. Allegretto -
  4. Schubert - String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887 (Op. 161): IV. Allegro assai
  5. Berg - String Quartet, Op. 3: I. Langsam
  6. Berg - String Quartet, Op. 3: II. Mäßige Viertel

Kuss Quartet
Jana Kuss, violin
Oliver Wille, violin
William Coleman, viola
Mikayel Hakhnazaryan, cello

Date: 2010
Label: Onyx




Schubert’s last string quartet is so ahead of its time, and so symphonic in its scale and utterance, that some ensembles (most notably the Alban Berg Quartet) play it in a manner that suggests orchestral weight and sonority. The Kuss Quartett takes the opposite approach by employing lean textures and spare vibrato–there’s no doubt that we are hearing merely four instruments. But what a sound they make! The music’s dynamic extremes will surely startle the unacquainted in this performance. Yet even in the loudest tutti passages the players take great care that every melodic strand is audible.

The Kuss’ sound is redolent of period-performance practice which, as with the aforementioned limited vibrato, prioritizes raw power over romantic prettiness. This is especially the case in the second movement (Andante), where the musicians’ exacting note values makes the central stormy episode sound cruelly curt. To be sure, this is not a warm rendition in the manner of the Verdi Quartett, but one that is all but impossible to turn your attention away from, even when the Kuss plays the long first-movement exposition repeat. My only concern is in the finale, where on the main theme’s fourth note the Kuss reads Schubert’s sforzando marking as ritardando. It’s interesting the first time, but as the players repeat this at every single appearance, it soon starts to sound like a mannerism.

Berg’s String Quartet turns out to be an apt coupling as the Kuss makes it understandable that the Schubert was as shocking to its 19th-century audiences as the Berg was at its 1911 premiere. Again the players illuminate the music’s inner voices with impressive clarity. Despite the atonal language, Berg in this piece held onto romantic styles and traditions, and the music’s passion comes through forcefully in the Kuss’ captivating performance. The vivid, high impact recording is icing on the cake.

-- Victor Carr Jr., ClassicsToday

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Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828) was an Austrian composer who was extremely prolific during his short lifetime. His output consists of over six hundred secular vocal works (mainly Lieder), seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music. Today, Schubert is ranked among the greatest composers of the late Classical era and early Romantic era and is one of the most frequently performed composers of the early nineteenth century. His music is characterized by pleasing tunes while still has "a great wealth of technical finesse".


Alban Berg (February 9, 1885 – December 24, 1935) was an Austrian composer. Berg is remembered as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and to date is the most widely performed opera composer among the Second Viennese School. His compositions  combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. He is considered to have brought more "human values" to the twelve-tone system, his works seen as more "emotional" than Schoenberg's.


The Berlin-based Kuss Quartet came to prominence in 2002 with first prizes from the Deutscher Musikrat and the Borciani String Quartet Competition in Reggio Emilia. Their repertoire ranges from music of the Renaissance to works by Helmut Lachenmann and György Kurtág, with whom the quartet maintains a close relationship. The quartet enjoys further collaborations with artists such as Paul Meyer, Pierre-Laurant Aimard, Mojca Erdmann and slam poet Bas Böttcher.


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