SCHUBERT: String Quintet in C Major, D. 956; Quartettsatz in C Minor, D. 703 – Ralph Kirschbaum, cello/ Takacs Q. – Hyperion CDA67864, 63:43 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Takacs Quartett engages the considerable talents of Texas cellist Ralph Kirschbaum for this eminently intelligent, often sensuous reading of the Schubert gem in his chamber music oeuvre, his 1828 C Major String Quintet (rec. 18-21 May 2012). Recorded by master engineer Simon Eadon, the inscription coalesces both warm intimacy and aerial spaciousness as the second cello anchors much of the work in octaves that shares the melodic line with the first violin. A singularly nervous excitement permeates the first movement in spite of the deeply lyrical – and infinitely famous – quality of the second subject. The Takacs ensemble restrains any effusion in its expression so that its crisp and intricate development might gain the spotlight; so, when the melody does return, it basks in its inspired glories even more. The seamless transitions between martial and lyric episodes, major and minor, absorb Kirschbaum’s throaty contribution into a marvelous alchemy that enchants and disturbs at once.
The remarkable Adagio moves in exalted slow motion, Edward Dusinberre’s violin’s singing, hesistant, poignant phrases over a throbbing pizzicato bass line. Suddenly, in F Minor, the entire sensibility shifts to tragic syncopations and pained commentary from Kirschbaum’s second cello. The storm subsides, and the music dissolves into shards and melodic fragments, quite forward-looking harmonically as violin and second cello engage in a colloquy over the original colors from the other instruments. Perhaps fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but the Scherzo has the participants’ thundering in with open strings in the manner of a sizzling hunt that might inspire Bruckner to orchestrate it. The real drama occurs in the Trio section, which literally slows down the atmosphere into a meditative chorale. The influence of this music on Dvorak must have been awesome and irresistible. The Austro-Hungarian Allegretto finale pays deep homage to Haydn, a sonata-rondo in gruffly energetic periods that has the two cellos playing in parallel colors. Violist Geraldine Walther makes her throaty presence known, even as the music moves temporarily through a series of dream-states. Eventually, the potent momentum returns for a concertante run by the first violin that becomes superheated in shifting modulations. The coda, too, injects a shadow of doubt on anything like victory, what might be termed “intimations of mortality.”
The 1820 Quartet-Movement in C Minor first impressed me with its dark tremolos in a performance by the Budapest Quartet. As in the Quintet, the key of D-flat proves ominously fateful. Often, the spirit of the piece verges on an impassioned concertante work for first violin and accompanying strings. The Takacs imbue the entire piece with a ghostly aura that might have served for the upcoming fourth film incarnation of The Great Gatsby.
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