Schubert: String Quintet in C, D956; Quartettsatz in C minor

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Schubert
WORKS: String Quintet in C, D956; Quartettsatz in C minor
PERFORMER: Artemis Quartet; Truls Mørk (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 502 1132

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Schubert’s first great chamber piece for strings is the Quartet Movement in C minor, presumably intended as the first movement of a four‑movement work. It marks a decisive break with his earlier quartets, both in the quality of its material and in Schubert’s characteristic use of four instruments in the manner of a small orchestra. The Artemis Quartet here usefully play the two minutes of music that is all he wrote of the slow second movement, and that gives the impression that he was at a loss as to how to maintain the intensity he had generated in the first. Their approach to the first movement is broadly similar to the Jerusalem’s (see Chamber Choice), at least in intention. Whereas the Jerusalem Quartet take a slightly more relaxed tempo, the effect of their performance is both fiercer and more soulful than that of the Artemis. The latter are placed more distantly from the microphone, and their leader at all points fails to set an example of rhythmic energy and of forcefulness. As soon as she sees a lovely phrase, in both this and in the sublime Quintet in C major, she melts. The result, particularly in the Quintet’s first movement which is taken so slowly as to last a few seconds under 20 minutes, is debilitating, though Truls Mørk, the extra cellist, does his best to contribute some bite. All told my impression is that the players are too seduced by the surface glories of the music to see what lies underneath. Michael Tanner