Raphael Ensemble

Schubert: Chamber Music

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On this 1995 Hyperion release, the Raphael Ensemble delivers a powerfully emotional reading of Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C major, D. 956, one that presents it as a fully fledged Romantic work with little Classical restraint. If this piece is regarded as a testament of the composer's anguished inner life, as it was written in 1828 and completed just weeks before Schubert died, then the stormy interpretation given here is perhaps appropriate and valid, insofar as it expresses sudden mood swings, restlessness, intense sorrow, and inconsolable rage. Yet an equally compelling case can be made that the String Quintet deserves a more balanced approach, and that Classical control should not be surrendered to the demonic impulses of Romanticism: the seraphic Adagio especially demands discipline to reveal its deep beauty, and despite the rampant Scherzo, the Trio requires absolute coolness to bring across its awe-inspiring stasis. That the Raphael Ensemble does not hold back enough in this performance is obvious from the beginning, though how much is part of the interpretation or due to nervous energy is hard to tell; it may be simple excitement over playing this masterpiece that makes the group so edgy and explosive. In contrast, the single-movement String Trio in B flat major, D. 471, composed in 1817, is given such poise and grace its Classicism is not disturbed by even a hint of the wild expressions vented in the String Quintet. Hyperion's sound is quite resonant and lustrous, though the grit of the strings' tone is hardly softened by the echoic acoustics.

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