The Fitzwilliam String Quartet play Bruckner

'A strange, idiosyncratic masterpiece'

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: String Quintet; String Quartet
PERFORMER: Fitzwilliam String Quartet; James Boyd (viola)


Hearing a really good performance of the Bruckner String Quintet can be a frustrating experience. It can make you realise how close this came to being a masterpiece – a strange, idiosyncratic masterpiece perhaps, but a very loveable one all the same. The loud symphonic perorations to the first and fourth movements are just wrong, the Finale loses its way, the Scherzo’s delicate-robust balance is tipped just a bit too much to the latter. Yet little sounds like orchestral music arranged for five strings.

One thing that helps is that the Fitzwilliam Quartet has been working on this music for a long time. The players have wrestled with its quirks and uncovered its marvels. The first movement only really loses its grip at the very end, while the Finale keeps re-engaging, no matter how many times it may seem to drop the thread. Tender warmth radiates from page after page, dialogue between the voices emerges with keen, intimate intensity. The great Adagio – the one unqualified success of the work – is as exalted and touching as it should be, but for once one doesn’t feel like going back to feast on that and ignoring the rest. It’s a complete experience, flawed, but not deeply flawed, and beautifully recorded. Even the relatively early Quartet sounds more alive, less like a student exercise than usual. All round a fascinating, rewarding disc.


Stephen Johnson