Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Capriccio Op 85, Prelude for string sextet* (1941) [10:47]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
String Quintet in F major (1879) [41:55]
Intermezzo in D minor for string quintet (1879) [3:56]
The Raphael Ensemble (Anthony Marwood (violin); Elizabeth Wexler (violin); Timothy Boulton (viola); James Boyd (viola); Andrea Hess (cello); Michael Stirling (cello)*)
rec. 24-26 October 1993, St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol.

Finished in 1879, the Quintet is thus a mature work by a composer who had already written - and in the case of the Fourth and Fifth, revised - five symphonies. There is a always a richness of sonority and harmony in this music which has given rise to the cliché that Bruckner’s idiom is too dense and orchestral, an accusation hardly borne out by the delicacy of some passages. The first subject is a melancholy, bittersweet melody which cascades down the scale before yielding to a more restless figure which is passed from instrument to instrument. The Scherzo is an odd hobgoblin dance played with great flexibility and charm here. It was initially scorned by Joseph Hellmesberger, the begetter of the quintet, as too difficult and abstruse, so Buckner accommodated him by writing an Intermezzo - here appended as a bonus - as a simpler, shorter alternative but retaining the same Trio that we hear in the Scherzo. However, the original Scherzo was soon re-admitted and in 1885 even Hellmesberger’s ensemble was playing it in preference to the Intermezzo. Listening to the sublime serenity of the Adagio, it is hard to believe that Bruckner was unfamiliar with the slow movements of Beethoven’s late quartets; this is the most massive and, yes, symphonic of the movements, and the Raphael Ensemble play it superbly with an unhurried weight and assurance, sometimes suspending the melodic line on a thread of tone. The Finale is the most controversial of the movements in that it can evince elements of over-reaching and fussy complexity which threaten to fragment. Bruckner’s admiration of Bach is most in evidence here in the fugato elements of the second subject; the quiet control and sustained pulse of the Raphael Ensemble keep it together, rendering the movement unified and credible. The end comes with a glorious coda as the upper strings declaim over the grumbling scramble of the cellos.

I have to admit that as much as I value, esteem and enjoy the Quintet, I derive greatest pleasure from the vulgar indulgence and soaring ecstasy of the Prelude from Strauss’s “Capriccio” – but I am in incurable Strauss junkie.

Originally issued at full price on Hyperion CDA66704 in 1994, this is now a bargain issue on the Hyperion’s Helios label and worth every penny.

Ralph Moore

The Raphael Ensemble play superbly.