Tokyo String Quartet / David Watkin

Schubert: String Quintet D.956; Quartettsatz D.703

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The last chamber music composition that Franz Schubert was to finish before his untimely death in 1828, the D. 959 String Quintet in C major is undoubtedly one of the composer's finest, most sublime works. The instrumentation was an anomalous choice. The last composer of note to write for string quintet was Mozart, who unsurprisingly opted for the addition of a second viola. Not since Boccherini had a composer chosen instead, as Schubert did, to include a second cello into the standard quartet makeup. The quintet visits several planes including tumult, blissful serenity, and utter joy. Brilliantly capturing these varying emotional states is the Tokyo String Quartet joined by second cellist David Watkin. These five musicians unite to delicately handle all of the sophistication of Schubert's score while maintaining momentum, vitality, and contrast sufficient to keep the writing (particularly the potentially long-winded first movement) from becoming stagnant. With the inclusion of two cellos, what's surprisingly missing in this recording is sufficient presence and definition from the bass end of the sound spectrum. Instead, Watkin and Clive Greensmith come out sounding blurred, hazy, and subverted by the upper strings. The disc also includes a well-executed, satisfying reading of the D. 703 Quartettsatz along with the seldom-heard second movement fragment.

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