SCHUBERT Quintet. Lieder
The Quintet is the peak of Schubert’s chamber output and high on any ensemble’s wish-list. The essential recordings range from the Amadeus Quartet (with William Pleeth or Robert Cohen – DG) to the Gramophone Chamber Award-winning Pavel Haas Quartet (with Danjulo Ishizaka – Supraphon, 10/13), with any number in between. So new recordings are going to have to be something special. This one is.
For a start, the Ebène Quartet quite clearly think deeply about every note, every texture, every gesture – as they have demonstrated in the past, not least in their Fauré/Debussy/Ravel Gramophone Recording of the Year (12/08). And they have gone for nothing but the best in their choice of guest cellist: Gautier Capuçon, who you couldn’t usually imagine playing second cello to anyone. The lower instruments are the engine room of the Quintet, and this performance demonstrates that as finely as any. For all the purity and wonder of Pierre Colombet’s first violin, it’s the combination of Capuçon and Raphaël Merlin on the bottom line that truly drives the music along.
The detailing, too, is remarkable, whether it be the way the cello duet of the first movement’s second subject is nuanced and inflected, pulling just enough at the pulse to give it individuality and shape; the way they don’t overplay the slow movement’s central convulsion but still manage to make the return of the opening console even as it breaks the heart; or the authentic Viennese lilt of the finale, an Apfelstrudel flavoured, as only French players can, with a generous dash of crème pâtissière. And still this is a performance that makes you come back for seconds.
The standard coupling for the Quintet is usually the Quartettsatz. Here, however, the Ebène offer something unique: a set of arrangements of five generally sad songs for which they are joined by Laurène Durantel on double bass and the dark baritone of Matthias Goerne, making a rather special appendix to his series of piano-accompanied Schubert Lieder for Harmonia Mundi.