Festetics Quartet

François Schubert: Grand Quintet en Ut

(CD - Arcana #308)

Review by

In the program notes for this CD pianist Paul Badura-Skoda writes of Schubert's Quintet in C as "one of the great masterpieces of western music. The perfection of its form, the profundity of its message, the beauty of the strings' sonority and its melodic richness make it a summit in Schubert's output," and it would be difficult to argue with his assessment. This performance by Quatuor Festetics and cellist Wieland Kuijken is both elegant and impassioned, a completely compelling account of the work. The ensemble brings a piercing musical intelligence to the score, both in its larger architecture, which in a work this expansive is a daunting challenge, and its details, in which subtle shifts in tempo, tone color, and mood are executed with exquisitely nuanced sensitivity. In the opening of the Allegro ma non troppo, for example, which traverses a complex landscape of migrating emotions, the group finds the musical logic that pulls the listener inexorably forward into the serenely sublime subject featuring the cellos in duet. The group's exquisite refinement is balanced with a visceral energy that the music requires to be fully effective; the Scherzo is appropriately boisterous and impetuous, and while its tempo is not as driven as in many performances, the players convincingly convey its heedless sense of abandon. Wieland Kuijken began his career as a gambist, but as a cellist has gradually expanded his repertoire forward from the Renaissance and Baroque, and he is effortlessly persuasive in this quintessentially Romantic work. Arcana's warm, embracing sound makes the listener feel intimately close to the players, and its clarity and depth beautifully capture the expressive range of the performance. This version of the piece would be an ideal introduction to anyone coming to it for the first time and should delight listeners who already love it. Highly recommended.

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