WORKS: String Quintet in C, D956; String Trio Movement in B flat, D471
PERFORMER: Raphael Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66724 DDD
Superlatives become ephemeral and critical criteria moulder into hollow pedantry when applied to an issue of this stature. The Raphael Ensemble’s account of Schubert’s String Quintet joins a small but illustrious pantheon of truly exceptional recordings of this over-subscribed masterwork. The Raphael’s assets are mightily impressive: homogeneity of instrumental voicing, rock-solid intonation and ensemble. Hyperion’s sound is sensational; inner voices are revealed with outstanding clarity and instrumental balance is faultless, although unusually, the notes make no mention of the recording location.
Keenly responsive to the breadth and magnanimity of the Allegro, the Raphael have an intuitive grasp of the natural gait and eloquence of contrasting incident during the Adagio. Moreover, their chosen tempo is perfect, enabling the yearning discourse of the outer sections to unfold amid entranced stasis. The outraged central episode sounds awesome; fine engineering allows each strand of these histrionic obsequies to register with maximum impact. The Scherzo has galvanic motivic verve, while the finale is aptly muscular, although darker premonitions are never deeply concealed. This is playing of unquestionable distinction, although the filler, the delectable Trio, D471, seems ill-matched beside such revelations. Michael Jameson