An extraordinary reading that rises to the moment
The severe sound environment of the Maulbronn Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the German state of Baden-Württemberg that dates to the twelfth century, has given rise to a series of recordings covering varying aspects of music from the Western concert tradition. That sound environment is put to intelligent use in this string quartet recital, which pairs well-worn pieces but gives them unusually intense interpretations that are heightened by the hard resonance of the sound. Sample the very beginning of the Schubert "String Quartet in D minor, D. 810" "Death and the Maiden", to get yourself into the disc; the opening chords might be described as slashing. Move on to the second-movement variation set built on the song that gives the quartet its name; where many quartets let a sort of debilitated gloom hang over much of the movement, everything here is a life-and-death struggle. The stronger of the two performances on the disc is that of Janácek's 1928 "String Quartet No. 2," subtitled "Intimate Letters," a hypersubjective work whose emotional content could have been drawn straight from one of Sigmund Freud's contemporaneous psychotherapy sessions. The work is as dissonant as almost any other of its period that does not completely reject tonality, but the dissonance is used in the service of untrammelled expression. The letters evoked are those between the composer and his married mistress. Yet the Amati Quartet's performance, ringing around the monastery walls, brings to mind, to use John le Carré's memorable simile, thoughts that are like birds stuck in a greenhouse. It's an extraordinary reading that rises to the moment offered by a specific performance space, and the disc as a whole, while not for those who like the emotional temperature of their classical music kept to medium, is decisively recommended to those wanting to try out the Maulbronn series.
I enjoyed it tremendously
It took me completely unawares when the dramatic opening bars of "Death and the Maiden" gripped me by the throat and threatened immediate life-extinction; I felt as if I were living the story myself, and though no maiden, I could certainly relate to her death-obsessed plight. This version is almost orchestral in feeling. While it is true that there is a huge amount of reverb in this space - well, it is a monastery - this only partially accounts for the destructive vehemence that the Amati gives this work. They see and saw their way as if it were the world's last concert, or the devil himself was in the audience. I enjoyed it tremendously...
Another thumbs up for this extremely enterprising German label
The enterprising German label K&K has made a name for themselves by issuing critically acclaimed recordings of oratorios and other sacred works in the haunting location of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Maulbronn Monastery. This CD features two string quartets by masters in the genre, Franz Schubert and Leoš Janácek played by the legendary Amati Quartet, one of the finest ensembles currently recording. Both works come across quite beautifully in the sumptuous acoustic and as expected, the Amati play with their exemplary brilliance especially in the "Intimate Letters" which is certainly very hard to bring off. This is another thumbs up for this extremely enterprising German label.
Awarded by Qobuz with the HI-RES AUDIO