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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
String Quartet in C minor, D. 703 (I: Quartettsatz; II: Andante (Fragment)) (1820) [10:58]
Quintet for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Cellos in C major, D.956 (1828) [51:47]
Artemis Quartet (Natalia Prischepenko, Gregor Sigl (violins); Friedemann
Weigle (viola); Eckart Runge (cello)); Truls MÝrk (cello) (Quintet)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany, 26-30 August 2007. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5021132 [62:50]
Experience Classicsonline

Although there have been many laudable recordings of Schubertís late masterpiece, the String Quintet in C, the arrival of a new one is the occasion for celebration. Most listeners undoubtedly have their favorite interpretations of this great chamber work and it is unlikely that this new version by the Artemis Quartet and cellist Truls MÝrk will alter that. However, this version is individual enough to merit serious attention. The disc is made all the more valuable in offering not just the well-known Quartettsatz, but also the fragment of the following slow movement that shows where Schubert was leading. This account of the Quartettsatz is blistering, taken at a swift tempo yet with every note very clear. Comparing it to the version by the venerable Quartetto Italiano, the latterís version seems plodding and heavy. This is then followed by what can only be described as a meltingly beautiful few measures that makes it all the sadder that Schubert never finished the work. As it stands, the Quartettsatz is a masterpiece in itself, much as is the Unfinished Symphony. I cannot imagine it being better performed than here by the Artemis.
 
The performance of the Quintet is also excellent and takes a fresh view of the work. In many ways the interpretation is more extrovert and romantic than other accounts from the past. I am thinking here in particular of those by the Alban Berg Quartet with Heinrich Schiff on EMI and by Isaac Stern, Yo-Yo Ma and company on Sony. Where the ABQ is rather austere and presents the work shorn of many of its repeats, an account that frankly has never appealed to me, and Stern et al are mellower and more relaxed, this new one brings out the dramatic elements with great force and then relaxes into the more lyrical ones, including the first movementís second subject. Undoubtedly it will not be the only way I want to hear this great work performed, but it is nonetheless one to reckon with. The more I listen to it ó and I have now heard it more than a half-dozen times ó the more I appreciate it. The musicians really listen to each other and one is more aware of the inner voices than usual. The balance among the five performers seems about perfect to me and the quintet is recorded upfront enough to hear all the detail and yet distant enough to project an overall warmth.
 
The great Adagio is taken at a nice flowing tempo, yet never seems rushed. Again the balance between the bowed melody and plucked accompaniment is ideal. The agitated central section is very dramatic and contrasts nicely with the main theme. The Artemisís control of dynamics also leaves little to be desired. The Scherzo is played with gusto at a lively tempo, while the Trio is appropriately withdrawn and intimate. The final movement is slightly slower than the above-mentioned versions, but has a true allegretto feel. One is again especially aware of the inner voices, yet the melody never fails to dominate as it should. Truls MÝrk, outstanding as he is, is a real team player and adds much to the success of the performance.
 
To sum up, this recording sheds new light on a work that is beloved but does not readily reveal all its secrets. If at times, the contrasts between the lyrical and dramatic elements seem more pronounced than usual, the overall impression left is one of real belief in the music and the ability to put it across with true depth of expression. When I want to hear something more genial, I will turn to Stern et al on Sony ó and donít forget the classic Stern, Schneider, Katims, Tortelier, Casals recording from the 1952 Prades festival (also on Sony). In the meantime, I am thoroughly enjoying this dramatic new account. The disc is made all the more attractive by its substantial filler.
 
Leslie Wright
 
 


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