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Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quintet in C,
Arcanto Qrt; Olivier Marron (vc)
HARMONIA MUNDI 902106 (52:41)
Anyone who disagrees that Schubert’s C-Major String Quintet is his greatest chamber work is invited to stand in the corner until he acknowledges his error. Let me go a step further and say that the C-Major String Quintet is Schubert’s greatest work in any medium, period. For his symphonies don’t qualify—sorry, not even the one nicknamed the “Great”—nor do his operas or choral
works. The only arguable competitors for the title are his song cycle,
, the B?-Major Piano Sonata, D 960, and the E?-Major Piano Trio, D 929.
It’s with this in mind that I approached this latest performance of a work that has enjoyed at least 100 recordings by many of the world’s most renowned ensembles and ad hoc gatherings of musicians, and the Arcanto Quartet, manned and womaned by a group of illustrious power players is among them. Familiar faces are those of violist Tabea Zimmerman, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, and violinist Antje Weithaas, though in previous reviews I’ve not particularly warmed to the latter’s tone. Violinist Daniel Sepec and cellist Olivier Marron who complete the ensemble are perhaps not quite as familiar.
From its opening world-weary sigh of disillusionment to the primal scream of its frenzied finale, Schubert’s string quintet is a fatalistic work filled with toxic fumes perhaps not to be exhaled again until Mahler, or until Ravel’s
. There’s an eerie connection between Schubert and these two later composers, both of whom also subjected music of the waltz to an acid bath. But enough about the quintet; it has been discussed at length in prior reviews.
It’s still early days, but I can virtually guarantee that this new version of the work will find a place on my 2013 Want List. Perhaps it’s because the Arcanto Quartet and Marron play the piece with all the twisted psychopathy I want to hear in it. Every modulatory mood swing stands out in stark relief, underscored by sudden attenuations in dynamics or nuances in phrasing. Listen, for example, to how the ensemble treats the accented quarter notes as early as the eighth bar of the score. And then there are the instances—too many to cite—where the players simultaneously cease their vibrato, turning the tone dead white to devastating effect. This is a performance in which every detail has been examined, dissected, and put back together to harrowing and chilling effect. In discussing the repressed and repressive Viennese society of Schubert’s day, note author Xavier Hascher insightfully observes that “the tight-laced, neurotic Vienna of Freud had its origins here.”
Previous favorites of mine in this work have been the Artemis Quartet with Truls Mørk, and a Gramola recording by the Acies Quartet with cellist David Geringas that made my 2010 Want List. But if you never buy another Schubert C-Major String Quintet, this is the one it has to be. It’s outstanding in every way, not least of which is Harmonia Mundi’s gorgeous recording.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Subtle but finally too dry February 5, 2013
By Paul Breslin (Evanston , IL) See All My Reviews
"In praising the new Takacs Quartet version of Schubert's string quintet, I mentioned that I'd also just acquired this one and on first hearing thought it would stand up as one of the best. After several rehearings, however, I can't say that it does. The sound, for one thing, is rather wiry, sparing of vibrato and lacking weight in climaxes. Hard to say whether this is the fault of the recording or the musicians, but perhaps the Arcantos are trying to apply HIP performance theories about vibrato?, I know that the violist Tabea Zimmerman and the cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras can sound ravishing when they wish to, but here, like the two violinists, they sound slightly acidic. The slow movement offers some rapt, hushed playing but is slightly too fast to do full justice. So I'll stick with the Takacs and Alban Berg recordings, with the Lindsay Quartet for days when I'm feeling a little bit self-indulgent."