Schubert: Piano Quintet in A, D667 (Trout); String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Der Tod und das Mädchen)

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: DG Entrée
WORKS: Piano Quintet in A, D667 (Trout); String Quartet in D minor, D810 (Der Tod und das Mädchen)
PERFORMER: James Levine (piano); Hagen Quartet, etc
CATALOGUE NO: 471 740-2 Reissue (1990)
Levine and members of the VPO give a lively, expert performance of the Trout that just lacks something in lightness and charm. The string players have an echt-Viennese warmth of tone and shape the music affectionately. But at times, especially in the Andante, I wanted suppler rhythms and more air in the phrasing. And responsive chamber musician as he is, Levine can’t quite match András Schiff, with the Hagen Quartet (Decca), or Alfred Brendel (Philips) for wit, subtlety of colour and spontaneous delight in Schubert’s exuberant invention.

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The Hagen’s Death and the Maiden, though, is spellbinding: a dark, lean-toned, muscular reading that penetrates to the music’s anguished heart. The high-voltage opening movement builds to a terrifying climax. The Andante variations, opening in blanched, spectral tones, have a magnificent cumulative intensity; and the tarantella finale receives one of the fastest and most desperate performances on disc – a true dance of death. A top recommendation, up there with the Lindsays (ASV) and the Alban Berg Quartet (EMI). Richard Wigmore