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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


HOFFNUNG for CHRISTMAS? an ideal Christmas present for yourself or your friends.
Books posted the day the order is received

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quintet in C major
Brandis Quartet, Jörg Baumann (cello)
Rec 1987, Teldec
APEX 09274 08332 [54.56]


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Mozart crowned his achievement as a composer of chamber music with string quintets, and so too did Schubert. But whereas Mozart used an extra viola in addition to the quartet ensemble of two violins, viola and cello, Schubert preferred to use an extra cello.

Schubert's Quintet is a masterpiece which transcends mere imitation. It was composed during the last weeks of his life, probably with no particular expectation of performance. As with so much of his music, the impulse to write it was his own creative necessity. The two cellos rarely play together in order to add richness and weight of tone; far more important is the preference for allowing one to soar upwards while the other supplies a deep bass, far beneath the viola's range. The cellos are also contrasted by the allocation of plucked (pizzicato) notes and bowed (arco).

The richness of invention is nothing short of miraculous, throughout the work, and any performance by talented musicians will inevitably open up new insights. So it proves here, and rather more than usual, I am inclined to suggest. For the Brandis Quartet and Jörg Baumann have the measure of Schubert's long-term vision, managing to generate activity as well as poetry among the generally slow tempi and extended lines.

One reason for their success is the careful articulation of dynamic shadings, and the excellent recording balance which makes the telling pizzicati of either cello make its mark when required. The technique of these players is second to none, and the music always sounds well. This is an important consideration in slower music, of course, and particularly so in this work.

The sonorities in the slow movement are beautifully sustained, and the subtle shift of emphasis for the contrasted middle section is highly effective, observing for once the fact that Schubert does not ask for a change of tempo at this point. Against this the two final movements are notable for their rhythmic bite, but again in the context of rich and fulfilling sonorities. This music is not easy to bring off, and it demands great concentration of its performers, not to mention its listeners.

The Brandis ensemble must be commended for their eloquence and skill, though as with other issues in this admirably budget-priced series, the booklet is poorly designed and unnecessarily difficult to read.

Terry Barfoot

 


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