Eight years ago ABC Classic FM listeners voted their top 100 chamber works and Schubert ‘podiumed’ spectacularly, taking four of the top five places, with the Trout Quintet winning gold. Runner-up was the String Quintet, and with so many hundreds of recordings to choose from, what recommends this new release by the French fivesome of the Ébène Quatuor and Gautier Capuçon? Well, if for no other reason than you get a wonderful bonus in five beautifully arranged Schubert Lieder sung by German baritone Matthias Goerne.But at over an hour’s length, the Quintet and its four kaleidoscopic movements are the main course, and what a superb meal the Frenchmen dish up!
Schubert’s masterpiece takes no prisoners with its emotional twists and turns, dynamic shifts and roller-coaster mood swings, and this is a very thoughtful and intelligent reading with plenty of Gallic flair and charm. As the quartet says in the liner notes: “It is a quintet reflecting both real life and dreams, the sacred and the profane, joy and mourning, revelry in the open air and monks walking to prayer through the cloisters, jubilation in the tavern, and testament of the soul.”
The players are in no hurry – the Adagio comes in at over 15 minutes, compared with 13 and a half in the Arcanto’s fine 2012 Harmonia Mundi recording. Every note is thought out with just the right amount of vibrato and the individual playing, as well as the ensemble work, is exceptional. The production is warm and slightly distant and this suits the elegance of Pierre Colombet’s lead violin, underpinned with some finely nuanced lower strings.
Goerne is wonderful in the settings of the five songs – Die Götter Griechenlands; Der Tod und das Mädchen; Der Jüngling und der Tod; Atys; and Der Liebliche Stern. As the quartet describe him in their introduction he is a singer “who can walk on water”. Accompanying the Lieder singer with a string quartet and double bass, played here by Laurène Durantel, fits in neatly with the idea of a Schubertiade and is a particularly pleasing treat after the glories of the Quintet.
If you agree with Siegmund “Sigi” Nissel, the second violin of the Amadeus Quartet, that: “The cellist is the bottle. If the violin is the label, then the inner voices are the real wine,” then on this CD you get two vintage bottles for the price of one.