If the Belcea Qt. is known to many American listeners, it is through their recordings. formed in 1994 at the Royal college f Music in London - many string quartets nowadays come out of conservatories - and named after the first violinist, corina Belcea, the group could be tagged the Alban Berg Qt. of Britain. They display a like intensity and seriousness of purpose, as well as a deeply considered approach to Schubert. I'd call this Rosamunde Qt. the best I've hard since the heyday of the ABQ. (What the disapproving lead reviewer calls an edgy sound i"d call digging in - he's certainly right that this isn't the milk chocolate sound of the Quartetto Italiano.)
The pacing of the first movement, taken slow enough to make every expressive point, is indicative, and so is the Belcea's ability to make every repeat sound new. The music unfolds as if it really means something to the players, which means it will mean something to us. In the slow movement the first statement of the Rosamunde theme is movingly simple and sincere; so often it's just a statement waiting to be embellished. I'm also impressed that they aren't fixated on a uniform, polished sound, although their sinewy timbre is certainly beautiful.
The mysterious Scherzo opens with superb musical feeling, and once more the pace is measured enough to give us full expressive value phrase by phrase. Perhaps the finale is a bit too grazioso - we could use more contrast with the subdued tone of the preceding two movements - but that's a quibble. The Quartettsatz, the other masterpiece here, is played with the same stylistic assurance. Quartet no. 10 in E-falt D. 87, despite its low catalog number, dates from 1817, the year Schubert turned twenty. It has some beautiful ideas and very Schubertian modulations grafted on to what is essentially a graceful Haydn quartet. The Belcea do it full justice, although for me the main attraction doesn't lie here.
In all, one of the best Schubert quartet CDs I've heard in a long time.