Schubert: String Quartet in D minor "Death and the Maiden" (CD review)

Also, Dvorak: Quartet in F Major "American," both scored for string orchestra. Charles Rosekrans, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Telarc CD-80610.

I suspect that one's reaction to this disc will depend largely upon one's familiarity with the original string quartet versions of the two pieces included. But the string orchestra transcriptions presented here are certainly accessible and designed for mass public appeal; indeed, as a number of years have passed since Telarc released this disc, you may have already heard the music to distraction on your favorite classical radio station. Certainly, the late opera, symphony, and ballet conductor Charles Rosekrans (1934-2009) and the estimable Royal Philharmonic Orchestra do a splendid job performing it.

Franz Schubert wrote his String Quartet in D minor "Death and the Maiden" in 1824, partly inspired by the words of a poem by Matthias Claudius about Death tempting a young woman with his soothing words. The work's combination of energy and melancholy have attracted audiences ever since. What we have on this disc, though, is something a little less formidable in an arrangement by Gustav Mahler for quite a few more strings. The result seems more romanticized, more idyllic, softer, and lusher than Schubert's original. The bigger arrangement obviously gives up a good deal of intimacy for the larger, cushier sound of a string orchestra, and I must confess I found it lost some of its impact and allure in the translation.

However, the Quartet in F Major, "American," written by Antonin Dvorak in 1893, rather benefits from its bigger arrangement, taking on a grander sweep that embellishes the music through its larger forces. Unfortunately, the Telarc folks do not tell us anywhere I could find on the packaging or in the booklet the number of strings involved or who did the new scoring. I presume the numbers involved are about the same as in the Schubert, and perhaps Telarc meant for us to assume the arrangement was by the conductor, Charles Rosekrans; I don't know. Still, it's odd. I mean, the notes tell us what microphones, amplifier, and speakers Telarc used to produce the disc but little about the arrangement of the music itself. In any case, I enjoyed the Dvorak slightly more than the Schubert, perhaps because over the years I've gotten more used to the sound of Dvorak in bigger arrangements to begin with.

And speaking of sonics, the recording (which Telarc released in 2003) does not sound quite as well defined as I would have expected from Telarc, given that they were working with a small string orchestra and all. Probably as a result of the natural hall ambience, there is a bit of haze or veil overhanging the orchestral picture, so we don't get as much inner detailed as Telarc often reproduce on their discs. In any case, this soft veiling may actually enhance the expressive, warmhearted characteristics of the music. It doesn't distract much and doesn't really harm the music.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa