Gidon Kremer/Kremerata Baltica: Schubert – String Quartet G major (ECM New Series 1883)


Gidon Kremer
Kremerata Baltica
Franz Schubert
String Quartet G major

Kremerata Baltica
Gidon Kremer violin and conductor
Victor Kissine orchestration
Recorded July 2003, Pfarrkirche St. Nikolaus, Lockenhaus
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

As a tireless champion of new interpretations of the old, the ever-adventurous Gidon Kremer has over the years forged a lasting relationship with, above most others, the music of Franz Schubert. One can only imagine, then, the excitement he must have felt when he learned of composer Victor Kissine’s having finished a string orchestral version of Schubert’s G-major String Quartet (op. posth. 161, D 887). The arrangement of this notorious masterpiece at first seems to embody a curious double bind, for while it certainly enhances the music’s dramaturgical spectrum, it simultaneously softens the edges thereof. The result is a rounded idol of the original. And yet, like a piece of glass that has been worn down by river’s flow or ocean’s tide, it takes on a new shape, becomes a jewel in the hands of a child, a glint of light noticeable even in an already vast and glowing population.

From the five seconds of silence that begin every ECM album made in the last 20 years, the orchestra emerges with a mounting proclamation that immediately justifies the means. Amid the dance of major and minor that ensues, the occasional soliloquy, like that of the pizzicato-ornamented cello in the opening movement, rings all the clearer. Here one must also note the Kremerata Baltica’s honed dynamic control, by which, despite the youthful magnitude of its combined forces, the music’s ruptures are allowed to sing with all the philosophy of their emptiness. Magisterial tempos give greater lift to the score and throw us into its spirals with swooning regard. The Andante enacts a veritable play of shadows, comporting its thematic actors with Beethovenian stagecraft. The cello reemerges as a voice with one foot behind closed eyes and one outside of them, and fades tear-like into the relatively brief Scherzo, where skittering motives place many a deft footstep through an agitated waltz before reworking the flames, only now more scintillating, in the final Allegro, which gallops its way through pages of light and shadow, leaving us to ride its ripple effect back into the open silence from which it awakened.

This project has Kremer written all over it. From his never-superfluous gildings to even the cover photograph (entitled “Heading for the North Pole” and taken by the man himself in 1990), Kremer has given his all to the finished product. This has nothing to do with ego, but with a reverence for Schubert, whose heart he and his entourage draw with the care of an anatomist. Kissine’s arrangement likewise allows us to hear the beating of this heart through a steady flow of melodic blood. And the sound? Wondrous. A sequins without the kitsch.

As I listen to this album it is snowing outside, yet the ground is warm enough to melt the snow on contact, giving the illusion that every flake continues to fall through the earth. I cannot help but map this sensation onto what I am hearing, for even as this music touches us it continues to fall through our skin and into a place in our minds where footsteps will never mar its confection.

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