Schubert: String Quintet in C D956; Quartet Movement in C minor D703

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: String Quintet in C D956; Quartet Movement in C minor D703
PERFORMER: Miklós Perényi (cello); Takács String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 436 324-2 DDD
Rather than follow the example of Mozart’s great quintets by adding an extra viola to the normal string quartet, Schubert’s only string quintet opts instead for the darker texture offered by a second cello. The result is at once the most nostalgic and the most hauntingly melancholy of all his great chamber works, and one that demands a corresponding degree of warmth from the players. This it largely fails to get from the members of the Takács Quartet: the opening movement is disappointingly unyielding, and in the Adagio their dangerously slow tempo impedes the music’s natural flow. They have, moreover, been recorded in a rather unflattering acoustic.

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Preferable in all these respects is the Brandis Quartet, though its intonation is not always impeccable. In an attempt to overcome a well-known interpretative problem in the Scherzo, it controversially makes the second half repeat from an earlier point than indicated, treating the emphatic final page as a second-time only coda.

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The Artis Quartet’s performance of the bleak Death and the Maiden has much to recommend it, with a particularly fine account of the Scherzo and finale. However, its failure firmly to establish a tempo at the start of the work is disturbing, and there are moments of similar expressive self-indulgence in the famous variation slow movement. The very early C major Quartet D32 is unremarkable stuff indeed, even when thrown off with such panache as here. Misha Donat