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A NEW APPROACH TO A SUBLIME MASTERPIECE

To present Schubert’s Quintet for two cellos,  dating from the final months of his life, would  be superfluous. There is no lack of commentary  concerning this absolute masterpiece, and any  attempt to add to it would be incongruous. In  this respect, one will felicitously refer to the  poetic commentary written for the present recording  by Paul Badura-Skoda, a great Schubertian.  Moreover, this is, as far as I know, the  first time an instrumentalist has written a  documented, committed text for a recording by  other artists, playing different instruments: a  fine gesture of collegiality and recognition ! 

What is more, the Quintet – which is more often  recorded than performed in concert – is well  known by music lovers, and the history of recording  is punctuated by fine interpretations.  However cruel and unjust it may seem for  musicians beginning their career at this time,  the notion that a new recording is justifiable  only if it contributes an original approach here  finds ample grounds. 

Péter Ligeti, the violist of the FESTETICS QUARTET,  readily affirms that a string quartet does  not reach a peak until at least ten years of working  together: the Quartet was founded in 1985.  István Kertesz, the primarius, maintains that  the use of period instruments allows for finding,  straightaway, the balance between voices,  something impossible for a quartet playing on  modern instruments, due to the divergent evolution  of the sound volume of each instrument  since the Classical era. Taking only the  material or organological elements into consideration,  one will note that the members of the  FESTETICS QUARTET all live in Budapest, this enabling  them to work together often, without  problems of travelling, and that they benefited  from the same training – the famous Hungarian  school – which ensures a perfect homogeneity  of sound. Let us add that the FESTETICSQUARTET  accepts its belonging to the Central Europe  – Mitteleuropa – that is omnipresent in the great  masters of Classicism, through their use of folk  themes, rhythms and sonorities. 

But all these options – including the way of  examining period sources and practises – have  no real interest unless they serve as an invigorating  substratum for expressing the message  of the masterpieces, for always going deeper  into the composer’s thinking. One has to have  attended a concert by the FESTETICS QUARTET  in order to understand to what degree making  music is an existential act, or practically a vocation,  for its members. The density of fervour  contrasts with the refusal of all artifice, the unfolding  of time creating a tension that subjugates  and mesmerises audiences. And every day, we  receive mail from anonymous discophiles  writing us about their profound emotion  resulting from listening to some recording by  the Festetics Quartet : this correspondence  represents nine tenths of the letters we receive!  For several reasons, I consider the FESTETICS  QUARTET one of the most prophetic and original  of our time. 

The bond with the illustrious WIELAND KUIJKEN,  so introspective and inspired, borders on the  miraculous. The way in which the Belgian cellist  suspends time before Eternity creates a response  devoid of all superfluity and trivial  detail. Here we attain, in the expression of  Debussy, “the naked flesh of emotion“. 

An unforgettable vision !

MICHEL BERNSTEIN  Translation John Tyler Tuttle