Schubert: String Quartet No.14; Sibelius: String Quartet Op.56
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Death preyed heavily on the minds of both Schubert and Sibelius when they composed the works featured on this new recording from the Ehnes Quartet. Between 1907 and 1909 Sibelius's health was seriously deteriorating. Along with the bleak and highly personal fourth symphony, the String Quartet Op.56 ''Intimate Voices'' is one of the composer's masterworks from this difficult period. Schubert wrote to a friend in 1824, ''I am the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world... whose health will never be right again.'' Schubert's emotions veered from happy memories of earlier years to terror at the prospect of death. The String Quartet No.14 makes ingenious use of his song ''Death and the Maiden'' and captures the mood of Schubert's fearful state of mind to perfection.
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a) do we need new recordings of famous pieces?
b) how should such recordings be marketed?
In respect of a), there are many great recordings of Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' already out there: wonderful historical documents, like those by the Amadeus and Busch quartets, or more modern ones like the Julliard, Lindsay and Takacs recordings. The Sibelius op.56 is less well covered but there are still a lot of recordings out there. (The Emersons on DG still stand out.) While this is a very fine performance of both, one questions whether it really needs to be there.
As regards b), this is, in terms of product design, an abject failure. The choice of a revolting Edvard Munch sketch as cover art adds a totally unsuitable air of sleaze, more suited to a high school heavy metal band; that, plus the quirky, back-bedroom font, make what is otherwise highly accomplished look rather amateurish.