This is a big, rich, fully romantic reading of Schubert’s string quintet, almost entirely the way I like it. There are generous, even luxurious touches throughout, starting with the first movement’s recap. Before starting, the performers take a generous pause and we hear the preceding music still resonating through the wood of their instruments. The two cellos sing gorgeous duets. Indeed, everyone has a terrific tone and enormous stage presence. The five players sound more than five, like an entire string orchestra, but they also sound like five people who could legitimately be touring soloists. A choral analogue might be the Tallis Scholars. Does that make sense?
If I have a criticism, it’s that some things are a little bit slower than ideal. In the first movement, this actually goes over well. The finale’s pacing may or may not be to your taste. The sticking point is the adagio, where everything’s a lot slower. It’s seventeen minutes against the usual thirteen or fourteen. I got used to it, but not everybody will, and I don’t prefer it.
So this is not a first-choice account but it is extremely good and a recording I’ll be keeping. This is not said lightly. Schubert’s string quintet is so important to me that I toss all manner of recordings at the first sign of a flaw: Alban Berg Quartet with Heinrich Schiff (flat sound), Artemis Quartet with Truls Mork (insensitive), Belcea Quartet (ditto). Really the main reference for me right now is the Raphael Ensemble on Helios, with the Cleveland Quartet and Yo-Yo Ma an acceptable replacement. The Quatuor Diotima and Anne Gastinel take a solid second or third place, on par with Cleveland/Ma or the Vogler Quartet on Profil. Cleveland/Ma is one of the few other albums where the bonus cellist’s name is as big as the quartet’s.
Even as an mp3, which is how I acquired this (ClassicsOnline), the sound quality is nothing short of stunning. Every player is presented naturally but flatteringly, and if they were less than outstanding tonally you would know it. The unusually slow adagio makes this an odd duck, but a duck I’ll be keeping. Who knows; maybe someday my ears will grow accustomed to the slow pace not just in the outer movements but in the central ones too. Then the Quatuor Diotima and Anne Gastinel will have produced not an odd duck but a beautiful swan.
Masterwork Index: Schubert string quintet