Schubert String Quintet in C major
This is nearly a great recording of what I think of as the finest of all Schubert’s chamber works, and one which has few equals in the whole chamber repertoire. It has been rewarded with a large number of magnificent accounts on disc, so that any newcomer has to earn its place. This version is exceptionally well recorded, with superb balance among the instruments. It’s significant that Schubert wrote for two cellos, not for two violas, and on this disc they are carefully differentiated. The players in the Arcanto Quartet, as well as the second cellist Olivier Marron, adopt an austere approach to tone, using very little vibrato. This means that not only are the separate instruments easy to tell apart, but also that there is a general feeling of unsentimentality. The first violin is almost raucous, which is quite a good idea in the hammer-and-tongs passages which alternate with lyrical ones in the first three movements. In all Schubert’s large-scale late works there are alternations of violence, or frenzy, and poignant melodies, of which the Quintet has an abundance. Since the melodies are repeated quite often, it’s a good idea not to linger, and to retain their ambiguity: are they consolatory or heart-breaking? In all these respects the Arcanto score highly. What I missed was the abandon which is to be found in the very finest performances, and which is most conspicuously absent here in the central section of the slow movement.