The Viennese commend eine schöne Leich (a beautiful corpse). Death is big business in Vienna and, in some quarters, , a deluxe send off is still considered de rigueur. It is seemingly in that spirit that the Takács Quartet has approached Schubert's String Quintet - a work completed just before the composer's death in November 1828. Rather than focussing on a chilly cadaver, this new Hyperion Records disc provides luxurious last rites.
Others take a more spectral approach, such as the Belcea Quartet on its 2009 EMI recording (among recent interpreters in this work's vast discography). In marked contrast, the Takács and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum plump for plush muscularity. There's a full-blooded surge to the work's introductory gestures, as well as healthy debate within the first subject. The second more lyrical theme has contrasting sweetness and warmth, though it is never acquiescent, indicative of boundless inspiration rather than the end of a life.
The Adagio is delivered in unaffected terms, akin to the Tokyo Quartet's recent recording. But there's a balance to be struck between that and the Belcea's more febrile reading. On repeated listens the Takács's cantabile playing may prove too pliant, particularly in the all-too-lyrical construal of the final section. Furthermore, I missed a coarseness in the Scherzo, which lacks the feral quality that the Takács brought to its performances of Haydn's quartets. Concluding such a reading, the finale takes Schubert at his word rather than exploring his and his music's slippery 'double nature'. That more equivocal tone only really appears in the accompanying performance of the Quartettsatz.
You cannot fault the Takács Quartet's generous playing, the player's tone and their commitment across these searing works. It all makes for a rhapsodic disc, a beautiful corpse, upholstered in the best possible taste. But I cannot deny missing the haunting skeletal figure presented by other interpreters.