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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Quintet, D.667 ‘Trout’ (1819) [39:05]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Octet, Op.20 (1825) [29:15]
Henschel Quartet
Diogenes Quartet
Gerold Huber (piano), Alexandra Hengstebeck (double bass)
rec. 2019, Himmelfahrtskirche, Sendling, Munich, Germany
SOLO MUSICA SM332 [69:45]

On this Solo Musica release of two of the best loved works of the repertoire, three founding members of the Henschel Quartet have come together with chamber music partners the Diogenes Quartet, Gerold Huber and Alexandra Hengstebeck. Renowned specialists in Austrian/German chamber music, both Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet and the Mendelssohn Octet are works central to the repertory of the Henschel. The silver jubilee year of the Henschel Quartet falls in 2019 and this album is a fitting tribute to mark the occasion.

Scored for the unusual combination of piano, violin, viola, cello and double-bass, Schubert’s famous ‘Trout’ Quintet is one of the best loved works in all chamber music. Written in 1819 it was thought to have been commissioned by Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy patron and amateur cellist. It was Paumgartner who suggested using a theme and set of variations on Schubert’s own song Die Forelle (The Trout) D.550. For this recording of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, Christoph Henschel (violin), Monika Henschel (viola), Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj are joined by pianist Gerold Huber and double bass player Alexandra Hengstebeck. With strong, focused playing this is an uplifting performance that has warmth and conviviality on the surface, yet I detect a slight undertow of melancholy. There is a lovely wistful quality to the songful Andante yet I’m not sure all is what it seems in Schubert’s world, while the delightful Scherzo feels so joyous with a sense of freedom. Especially enjoyable is the lyrical outpouring of the glorious writing of the Finale with the splendid string sound contrasting with Huber’s highly accomplished piano playing which never unduly dominates. In the catalogue there are a substantial number of competing recordings of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet. A real favourite is the evergreen account played by pianist Clifford Curzon and the Vienna Philharmonic String Quartet led by Willi Boskovsky. Curzon and the string players are on their finest form with polished playing, expressive eloquence and tremendous lyricism. Recorded in 1957 at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, the analogue sound has been successfully re-mastered on Decca. For its level of refinement and character I also admire the 2002 account by Frank Braley, Renaud Capuçon, Gérard Caussé, Gautier Capuçon and Alois Posch recorded in La Chaux-de-Fonds on Virgin Classics. I certainly wouldn’t wish to be without the Clifford Curzon recording but I’m delighted to welcome this penetrating account into the catalogue.

Mendelssohn was only sixteen when writing his famed Octet for strings in 1825. It’s a work that seemed to come from nowhere, with no obvious precedents or models. Mendelssohn left the instructions, ‘This Octet must be played by all the instruments in symphonic orchestral style. Pianos and fortes must be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual in pieces of this character.’ On this recording of the Octet Christoph Henschel, Monika Henschel, Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj and Gregory Maytan are joined by the Diogenes Quartet. Highly charged, the performance of this youthful score contains depth, great character and is crisply rhythmic with clarity of texture. In the Scherzo, by far the most celebrated movement, the playing just trips along, and I love the sense of fairyland mischievousness and exhilaration that the players produce. Admirable throughout is the unity of ensemble, the unfailing reserves of energy and crucial attention to dynamics. In the Octet there are a number of recordings that I reach for including: ASMF on Decca, Melos Ensemble of London on EMI, Gewandhaus Quartet on Brilliant Classics, Academy Chamber Ensemble on Philips, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on Delos and the Emerson Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon. I’ve never been able to settle on a particular favourite recording of the Octet and this striking new account from the combined Henschel and Diogenes quartets joins the ranks of the finest recordings, a valuable addition to a fertile discography.

Recorded under studio conditions at Himmelfahrtskirche, Munich the players have been provided with first rate sound quality. The accompanying booklet concentrates on providing details about the performers with some concise information on each work. The fruits of years of experience, in these Schubert and Mendelssohn masterworks, these are perceptive performances of real maturity which have significant gravitas.

Michael Cookson

Performers
Schubert
Gerold Huber (piano), Christoph Henschel (violin), Monika Henschel (viola), Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj (cello), Alexandra Hengstebeck (double bass)
Mendelssohn
Christoph Henschel (violin), Gregory Maytan (violin), Stefan Kirpal (violin), Gundula Kirpal (violin), Monika Henschel (viola), Alba González i Becerra (viola), Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj (cello); Stephen Ristau (cello)

 



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