SCHUBERT String Quintet. String Quartet D703

Kirshbaum joins the Takács for a second look at the Quintet

Author: 
Harriet Smith

Schubert: String Quintet; String Quartet D703

  • String Quintet
  • String Quartet No. 12, 'Quartettsatz'

It’s nearly 20 years since the Takács last recorded Schubert’s Quintet (with a different line-up and the cellist Miklós Perényi) so my expectations were high, especially after their previous Schubert (A/06). The Quintet does throw up a very specific issue, though: that of integrating an additional cellist into the quartet medium – a challenge whether the line-up is a quartet plus one or a group of stellar soloists.

As anticipated, there’s much to admire in their pacing and detailing of the piece. Subtle changes of colour abound, not least in the balance at the start of the slow movement: the first violin’s soulful phrases duetting with the pizzicato second cello against a quietly sustained backdrop from the other players. But turn to Belcea/Erben and you’re drawn into an even more confiding world. Both groups judge the tempo well though – compared to the Lindsays’ extreme languor on the one hand and the strikingly quick tempo adopted by Heifetz et al. Tempi generally are very well judged, the Scherzo given a real one-in-a-bar impetus, though I’ve heard more heart-rending performances of the Trio. And in the finale, taken at a steady tempo – again quite similar to the Belcea’s – there is much incidental detail to enjoy, though the Heifetz-led performance finds a greater degree of cumulative intensity. The playing is consistently impressive but what I missed was a sense of fearlessness.

The issue with the Quintet crystallises when you turn to the Quartettsatz. Suddenly all the things that make this ensemble so remarkable are on display: the confidence to take risks, the spontaneous-sounding rubatos and the independence of each player while sharing a collective vision. Examples abound. There’s the tempo to start with: daringly fast, leading to a performance more febrile than that of either the Jerusalem or – surprisingly perhaps – the Elias, the latter putting more emphasis on the movement’s lyricism. Yet the Takács never sound unduly pushed. The detail is entrancing, be it the dramatically ascending scales in the first violin against the intense, scrubbing accompaniment or the explosively powerful tuttis. And the flexibility of leader Edward Dusinberre’s phrasing is a particular joy, as is his sound – that ideal mix of warmth and precision. The Lindsays may find a comparable freedom but theirs is an altogether rougher diamond. So very much a disc of two halves and it’s for the Quartettsatz that this is primarily recommendable.

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