Michel Boulanger / Kuijken String Quartet

Schubert: String Quintet

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Widely regarded as Franz Schubert's greatest chamber work, the String Quintet in C major, D. 956, is a serious test for any group that attempts it. The Kuijken Quartet and first cellist Michel Boulanger recorded it for Challenge Classics in 2013 at Galaxy Studios in Mol, Belgium, and Northstar Recording's multichannel reproduction gave them exceptional state-of-the-art sound, so all that's left to consider is the artistry. The quartet consists of members from two generations of the Kuijken family who have distinguished themselves in Classical and early Romantic repertoire, and with Boulanger, these musicians have been closely associated with period style performances on original instruments. Yet for this performance they chose to play modern instruments and focused on the music without recourse to historically informed practices. Their rich and resonant sound is enhanced by the audiophile recording, so on first hearing the music seems perfectly gorgeous. But its essence takes longer to discover, and only by listening attentively can the playing be fully appreciated. Schubert's form is quite expansive and the point of his sometimes episodic writing may be hard to grasp, especially because his unexpected key changes and sudden changes of mood suggest that a variable interpretation may be in order. Yet the Kuijkens maintain a consistent control of tempo and phrasing and the playing is steadily paced and concentrated throughout, so there are no exaggerations to distort the music's affect. The result is a poised and balanced reading, delivered with great care and sufficient energy, but not overly dramatized. Highly recommended as one of the best recordings of the string quintet to appear in many years.

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