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Franz Schubert: Streichquintett C-dur; Ouverture C-moll

Schubert / Acies Quartet / Geringas
Release Date: 03/09/2010 
Label:  Gramola   Catalog #: 98840   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  David Geringas
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 4 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUBERT String Quintet in C, D 956. Overture in c, D 8 Acies Quartet; David Geringas (vc) GRAMOLA 98840 (63:36)

Written in 1828, barely two months before his death, Schubert’s C-Major String Quintet is, by critical consensus, his greatest achievement in the chamber music genre. General opinion also tends to favor the feeling that in no other work by Schubert are the syphilitic madness that fevered his brain and the Read more all-consuming blackness that engulfed his soul as manifest as they are in this truly terrifying stare into the abyss. The booklet’s essay title, Life’s Rosy Color had Vanished , does not even begin to describe Schubert’s Munchian scream that would echo three-quarters of a century later in the Expressionist phantasmagorias of Mahler and early Schoenberg. It was in a Fanfare 32:2 review of the piece performed by the Artemis Quartet and Truls Mørk that I said of the quintet, “whole pages of it reek of death and in the end, like Elektra in her mounting frenzy, dance themselves to their ecstatic and triumphant destruction.” And yet we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to Schubert’s manic dementia, for it lures us with that special Viennese weltschmerz simultaneously so sweet and sad that it summons suicide and oblivion as longed-for alternatives to living.

This Schubert accomplishes in a number of ways. First, there is the darkening of a second cello added to the ensemble, an unconventional substitute for a second viola. Then there is the unsettling introduction that hovers disturbingly between major and minor, setting the stage for the entire work that could serve as a case study in the undermining of mode and tonality. Next you have that seductive, slithering, serpentine second theme that coils and wraps itself around you like a poisonous vine, yet you surrender yourself willingly to its Sirenic allure. The rage of the development section that follows is palpable.

If Beethoven could write music that seems to suspend the sense of time, Schubert seems to use time to arrest the sense of music in the quintet’s remarkable Adagio. Note author Walter Gürtelschmied describes it as “a stifling standstill that is the equivalent of music that has stopped breathing.” Isn’t this the movement that Artur Rubinstein is said to have wanted played at his funeral? Methinks it an odd choice, for I find nothing particularly serene or comforting about this music. Beneath its deceptively placid surface there seems to pulsate a regret and disillusionment in life so profound that it can only be voiced in a stammer. And once again the seething anger bursts forth in the movement’s midsection.

The Scherzo reverses the pattern. Beginning with the fastest of all Schubert’s scherzo movements, the B-section trio takes an unprecedented turn. Slower in tempo and in 4/4 time instead of the customary 3/4 , it wrenches us into yet another turbulent onslaught in which major and minor clash in mortal combat.

But the final psychotic break comes in the last movement. It begins innocently enough as a dance in the Hungarian style. But soon, everything seems to become distorted as the dance floor begins to spin wildly out of control. An oily Ländler -like tune oozes its gruesome parody of a Viennese waltz gone amok, a pre-echo if there ever was one of Mahler’s vulgarized caricatures. Finally, the music breaks loose of its moorings, racing ever faster toward its confrontation with one of the most shocking endings of all time: Just when you thought C Major was finally home safe, she is violently raped right on her doorstep by a D?. If, as Gürtelschmied asserts, “death is the theme par excellence of Romanticism,” then Schubert was surely among the grimmest of its reapers.

In a recent review [33:4] of the Acies Quartet playing Debussy, Puccini, and Gulda, I was not terribly receptive to the ensemble’s way with Debussy’s string quartet, feeling it was somewhat lacking in a grasp of the French Impressionist style and flavor. In Schubert, the German Acies evidences no such liability. Theirs is one of the most gripping, hair-raising accounts of the quintet I know, and there are a lot of them out there.

Among the ones I’m familiar with and rate highly are those with the Alban Berg, Artemis, Hagen, Petersen, and Vogler quartets, augmented by various distinguished cellists. All of these, to a greater or lesser degree, I feel, capture the essential emotional and psychological crises of the work. A couple of others I’m familiar with, namely the Guarneri and Juilliard, both coincidentally with cellist Bernard Greenhouse augmenting the ensembles, I find a bit too laid-back and relaxed, tending to reinforce the now retro view of Schubert as the gemütlich composer with the cherubic smile. That ship has long since sailed, as serious research has revealed Schubert to have been one sick puppy, a picture certainly reinforced by the String Quintet, which could not have been the product of a healthy mind.

The Acies Quartet joined by cellist David Geringas clearly appreciate the aberrant aspects of this music, for theirs is a reading that revels in, rather than apologizes for, the score’s sick and twisted pathology. I mean that in a good way, and I loved every minute of it. The players grab you by the throat from the very beginning and don’t let go for a moment. Their performance has the sharp focus, concentration, and intensity of a laser beam. At moments, as in the development section of the first movement (in which the exposition repeat is taken), the playing has a ferocity to it that is almost over the top. Yet not for a moment do the Acies and Geringas sacrifice technical control, intonation, or quality of tone production to febrile recklessness, which in large part is what lends their performance a sense of such unnerving urgency. This definitely now rises to the very top of the heap of my Schubert String Quintet recordings.

Ordinarily, I’d refer to Geringas’s arrangement for string quintet of Schubert’s C-Minor Overture, D 8, as generous if superfluous filler on a disc that requires nothing further to complete it. Truth be told though, I’d never heard it before and knew nothing about it until I did a little digging on my own, which only led to some confusion. It’s one of Schubert’s earliest surviving works, having been written in 1811 when he was 14 and still a student at Vienna’s Stadtkonvik. My confusion came from learning that the piece, as Schubert originally wrote it, was scored for string quintet. Thus, one would logically wonder what need there was for Geringas to arrange it if it was already a string quintet to begin with. Though I don’t have a definitive answer to the question, my educated guess is that the quintet ensemble Schubert wrote the piece for was the more common combination of two violins, two violas, and cello; and what Geringas has done is to substitute a second cello for the second viola. Another recording that includes the overture, and is coupled as here with the C-Major Quintet, is offered by the Verdi Quartet on Hänssler Classic, unfortunately one I can’t recall having heard.

In any case, this Schubert overture is one wild piece of music. From its searching chromatic Largo introduction to its searing, tempestuous Allegro, it’s hard to believe a 14-year-old, even a precocious genius like Schubert, could have written such a thing. It’s almost as if 17 years later the great C-Major Quintet shudders with echoes of this frightening nine-minute piece, which suggests to me that the composer was already deeply disturbed as a child and mad as a hatter long before venereal disease infected his brain.

This is guaranteed to be one of my personal award-winning chamber music discs of the year, and it earns my highest recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Strings in C major, Op. 163/D 956 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  David Geringas (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Barocksaal, Stift Vorau, Styria, Austria 
Length: 53 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Overture for Strings in C minor, D 8 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  David Geringas (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1811; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Barocksaal, Stift Vorau, Styria, Austria 
Length: 9 Minutes 13 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 An exceptionally beautiful account by the Acies q November 28, 2012 By M. Gielen (den Bosch, Noord Brabant) See All My Reviews "This heartrendering and intensive performance of the,after my opinion,greatest string quintet ever written is a stirring interpretation. the Acies with Geringas give a sublime ensemble playing where all the players are in tune.They go right to the heart of the music with a seldom heard inner intensity. The Schubertian joy and pain can hardly be better felt.The finale has e feverish rush on its fate almost to the breaking point,though never overdone. the last note as harsh as it sounds leaves us bewitched and bewilderd. strongly recommended M.Gielen" Report Abuse
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