Schubert String Quintet in C; String Quartet in C minor

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Franz Schubert
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert String Quintet in C; String Quartet in C minor
WORKS: String Quintet in C, D956; String Quartet in C minor, D703
PERFORMER: Takács Quartet; Ralph Kirshbaum (cello)


This is exactly the kind of aristocratic, intellectually commanding playing you would expect of the Takács Quartet. Any listener who still clings to the hoary notion that Schubert was significantly better at melodic inspiration than at structure should listen to this and abase themselves. The Takács pace the argument superbly, so that everything in this huge, complex structure seems to happen at exactly the right time. Typically, they give the chord before the first-movement repeat a massive forzando only the first time round. It makes perfect sense musically, giving the next step forward into the development section just the lift in needs.

Yet for all its Olympian beauty and grandeur, this performance isn’t quite so strong when it comes to capturing the human side of Schubert. The first movement’s glorious two-cello theme is admired at arm’s length, rather than cherished as a loved friend. The slow movement is an abstract meditation, not the song of a soul half in love with, half in dread of death. The finale sails and strides majestically from idea to idea, but the swing between worldly consolation and accelerating anxiety, caught by so many of the best interpreters, is largely missing. Distracting, too, are the big intakes of breath from some of the performers before important utterances – the one at the very start caught me off guard more than once. I’d have gladly sacrificed some of the recording’s richly textured immediacy if it meant losing the sound effects. The Quartettsatz is better in all respects, but who’s going to buy this disc just for that?


Stephen Johnson