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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quintet in C major, D956 (1828) [53:47]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Divertimento, K136 (‘Salzburg Symphony’) (1772) [16:38]
Aeolian String Quartet: Sidney Humphreys (violin); Raymond Keenlyside (violin); Margaret Major (viola); Derek Simpson (cello); Bruno Schreker (2nd cello, Schubert)
rec. 1966-7, venue not stated, ADD
REGIS RRC1278 [70:26] 


Reviewing the version of the Schubert on this CD brings a welcome encounter with an old friend. I owned the original Saga LP of this recording and treasured the performance even though it meant listening through the heavy surface noise of the Saga LPs of the 1960s. Later, much better German pressings improved the matter. Now, with the Mozart coupling, I welcome its return. 

The Penguin Guide review, reprinted in part on the back cover, referred to the direct, concentrated but unmannered nature of the performance and these qualities are evident from the start. The opening allegro sets the tone: direct and brisk but not inexpressive. The playing of the Aeolians, who became something of a Saga house-ensemble before Decca contracted them to record their very fine set of the Haydn quartets, combines beauty with expressiveness. 

The beauty of the playing is, of course, most evident in the adagio, a really heart-felt but not over-emotional performance of this wonderful movement. The booklet reminds us that the last music which Schubert heard, a mere few months after composing the Quintet, was Beethoven’s Op.131 quartet. At the risk of seeming fanciful, it seems to me that this adagio, like the late piano sonatas, was Schubert’s response to that quartet, written by a man who already knew that he was dying. Though the tone of Schubert’s letters during that last summer of 1828 is generally cheerful, the finale of the Quintet mirrors this cheerfulness. The Aeolians’ time for the adagio, at 15:31, is objectively on the slow side but subjectively their tempo seems just right for a work which combines emotional appeal with the warmth that the second cello brings. Schubert presumably chose the Boccherini model with the second cello rather than the second viola of the Mozart string quintets in order to add this warmth. The same is true of the tempi of the other movements. Apart from the opening allegro, their timings are a little slow but they never seem so. 

The recording inevitably shows its age in slight harshness in the outer movements – a degree of wiriness in the violins especially at forte and beyond – but I did not find this really troublesome and it certainly does not preclude a strong recommendation. The chief competitor in this price range is the very decent but unexceptional version on Naxos 8.550338. The Naxos DDD recording is inevitably more natural-sounding than the ADD Regis but the Aeolians have such a real edge over the Ensemble Villa Musica as to make this Regis CD preferable. Comparison of the two versions of the second movement shows that Villa Musica, though slightly faster, seem at times to drag. 

Both CDs place the Quintet first, Naxos concluding with Schubert’s String Trio, D581, and Regis with the first of Mozart’s so-called Salzburg Symphonies. The Mozart String Divertimento is the better-known work, though collectors may well have a CD which couples all three String Divertimenti, Kk136-8. I cannot imagine that serious listeners would want to hear either work after the Quintet; it is, of course, possible to programme the playing-order but it would surely have been more sensible for the companies to have reversed the order themselves. The Aeolians play the Mozart well but it inevitably sounds trivial after the intensity of the Schubert, even with a 13-second gap between the works, and the ear misses the warmth of the second cello as it switches to the sound of the Aeolians alone. There is no better way to confound the arguments of those who believe the finale of the Quintet to be too light-weight than to follow it with the opening of K136. Otherwise the Aeolians capture the spirit of this Mozart Divertimento well. The recording of the Mozart is a trifle thin though perfectly acceptable. 

The disc is attractively presented, with a Romantic Austrian landscape on the cover and a perfectly adequate set of notes; not quite in the same league as Keith Anderson’s for Saga, but informative. 

Brian Wilson 




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