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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quintet for Two Violins, Viola, and Two Cellos in C major, D.956 (1828) [54:56]
Lieder (arr. Raphaël Merlin) for Baritone, String Quartet, and Double Bass:
Die Götter Griechenlands, D.677 (1819) [4:19]
Der Tod und das Mädchen, Op. 7, No. 3, D.531 (1817) [2:04]
Der Jüngling und der Tod, D.545 (1817) [3:37]
Atys, D.585 (1817) [4:18]
Der liebliche Stern, D.861 (1825) [2:47]
Quatuor Ebène: Pierre Colombet (violin); Gabriel Le Magadure (violin); Adrien Boisseau (viola); Raphaël Merlin (cello)
Gautier Capuçon (cello) (Quintet)
Matthias Goerne (baritone); Laurène Durantel (double bass) (Lieder)
rec. Salle Colonne, Paris, France, 26-28 September and 12 October 2015 (Quintet), 13 October 2015 (Lieder)
Lieder texts and translations in French and English included
ERATO 2564 648761 [72:06]

When I reviewed the Artemis Quartet’s account with cellist Truls Mĝrk (Virgin Classics) of Schubert’s sublime String Quintet back in 2008 (review), I commented on how they brought out both the dramatic and lyrical elements of the work better than I had experienced from some other recordings. Now the Quatuor Ebène and Gautier Capuçon in a more expansive interpretation easily top the earlier one in capturing the various elements in this multi-faceted composition. However, they are recorded close and at a high level, requiring some downward adjustment of the volume control. Once the adjustment has been made, though, their ravishing sound and acute observation of dynamics result in a performance that sends shivers down the spine. I have no hesitation in claiming this to be a recording for the ages. The quartet play as one with the star cellist Capuçon not drawing attention to himself, but integrating ideally with the others.

Quatuor Ebène/Capuçon add three minutes to the overall timing of Artemis/Mĝrk, most of which occurs in the second movement Adagio (15:13 to 13:11). That movement in no way seems slow, just deeply felt and very moving. They contrast the initial stoic theme with the turbulent second section as well as I have ever heard. The third movement Scherzo then bursts in with unbuttoned joyousness before the Trio darkens the mood with an almost religious purity. Likewise the finale dances with all the rustic vigor one could want, followed by the beautiful second theme that melts the heart. There the ensemble plays really softly with the cellists duetting memorably as they did in the second subject of the work’s first movement. The quintet then takes the final sprint at quite a lick, but with more emphasis and separation on the final two notes than in other accounts that I’ve heard.

I still admire the Artemis/Mĝrk recording and will return to it if for no other reason than its coupling, Schubert’s Quartettsatz that also includes a two-plus minute fragment of the unfinished second movement. On this new disc there is an even more unusual coupling, arrangements by the quartet’s cellist of five Schubert lieder. As indicated in the interesting CD booklet notes, it was typical in Schubert’s day to perform lieder in a salon setting, or Hausmusik, accompanied by instruments other than piano. Such arrangements of Schubert lieder with a string quintet accompaniment would not have been unknown. The spirit of such a Schubertiade is present here and succeeds for the most part. If I would always prefer to hear these songs with only piano accompanying, the arrangements here sound authentically Schubertian. Having the double bass as a foundation is reminiscent of its use in Schubert’s other quintet, the “Trout” for strings and piano.

The songs range from the rarely heard Atys on a text by Johann Baptist Mayrhofer to the better known Death and the Maiden, which Schubert employed so memorably in his String Quartet No. 14. It is luxury casting to have the illustrious Matthias Goerne with his dark, rich baritone sing these lieder. The recording at times precludes total comprehension of the texts, something that would likely not occur with piano, so it is fortunate that the texts are printed in the booklet. Goerne sings to the manner born, leaving a most positive impression.

While having Schubert lieder arranged as here in no way detracts from the value of the programme, it is for the superlative account of the great String Quintet that I will often revisit this wonderful disc.

Leslie Wright



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