Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quintet, Op post 163, D 956
String Quartet ‘Quartettsatz’, D 703
Laura van der Heijden (cello)
St Michael's Church, Highgate, London
CHANDOS CHAN10978 
Being unimpressed by this recording on first listening, I made a point of returning on several occasions in case my initial response was simply the result of my being in the wrong mood or harbouring a prejudicial preference for established favourites, but I am afraid nothing changed as a result of subsequent exposure to this genteel performance. While it is by no stretch of the imagination poorly played, given that this quartet comprises of long-established and distinguished performers renowned on the circuit, for me their account of this, my favourite chamber work, fails to take off.
The opening immediately strikes me as pale and uninspired, lacking in all verve and drive and it continues in the same vein, flat and nerveless; one passage succeeds another with calm imperturbability - how is it possible to make this music boring? This is music to stir and disturb yet five minutes in and I have almost fallen asleep. If the quartet’s idea was to make the music more refined and contemplative, I can only say that for me that approach does not work at all. The potentially thrilling change of key and mood half way through, heralded by a searing chord, goes for nothing here, so there is little to contrast the long, serene melody which ensues.
The sublime Adagio is similarly well played but without the rapt concentration the outer sections require and the central Sturm und Drang passage is again rather tame in execution; we need to hear some bite and thwack from the bows on the strings if the anguish of Schubert’s narrative is to be fully realised. In the tempestuous Scherzo, however, we finally get some of the volume and attack lacking in the previous movements and the slow middle section finds the rapt quality hitherto missing, but the reprise of the C major dance lacks fire and the “Hungarian Rhapsody-style” finale could certainly be more exuberant.
The bonus of the sonata-form Quartettsatz is more energised but the frenzied developmental passages also essentially lack the steel required to balance the skipping, lyrical main theme.
The sound here is fine but the lack of edge in the playing seems to be reflected in the generally soft ambient halo around the playing,
To hear this music ideally played in all its nerve-jangling fervour, I suggest that you turn to recordings by such as the Ensemble Villa Musica on Naxos or the Alban Berg Quartet with Schiff on EMI.
Published: October 11, 2022