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Schubert: String Quintet D956 [CD]

Melos Quartettt , Mstislav Rostropovich , Franz Schubert Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Composer: Franz Schubert
  • Audio CD (23 Nov 1989)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: DG
  • ASIN: B000001G6G
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,673 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C, D.956 - 1. Allegro ma non troppo20:35Album Only
Listen  2. Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C, D.956 - 2. Adagio16:05Album Only
Listen  3. Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C, D.956 - 3. Scherzo (Presto) - Trio (Andante sostenuto)11:21Album Only
Listen  4. Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C, D.956 - 4. Allegretto 9:56£1.09  Buy MP3 

Product Description

It would be difficult to imagine a finer account of this extraordinary work than that of the Melos Quartet and their distinguished guest. The flow of the music is magnificently sustained, its colour and inner life marvellously felt. There is a spontaneity to the playing that perfectly complements the profound whimsicality of Schubert's journeys to remote tonal regions, along with a sensitivity ideally suited to the meditative quality of the composer's lyricism. The recording is warm and spacious, richly nuanced, and admirably balanced. --Ted Libbey

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Relaxing!!!!!!!!!!!! 14 Jan 2014
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Lovely pieces of music on this album, ideal to sit and listen to on your own, with a nice glass of your favourite tipple.
Very popular with Classic FM listeners. Buy it.............
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schubert from Melos, Rostropovich, Shines Brightly 5 Mar 2000
By Thomas B Dawkins - Published on
Format:Audio CD
The edition of this recording in my possession is from the European set "Schubert Meisterwerke" which was availbale for a short time in the US. This particular recording is among the most soulful of the Schubert C Major Quintet. Most notable is probably the second movement, Adagio, with potent first violin and first 'cello lines that sing over the mezza voce accompaniment. Rostropovich is rather well known for taking this movement slower than comfortable for many players, but I think this adds a great deal to the recording as the movement is beautiful but restless at points. The Melos will not let you merely settle passively into this movement, but will pull and push you along with it. The Scherzo is an amazing contrast in that it is practically all push -- pushing ahead that is -- until the more lyrical trio. This work is difficult to navigate, with numerous voice changes, parallels and tempi that refuse to quite settle, but it is difficult to find a better recording than this.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical performance of Schubert's great masterpiece with lush sound 28 Jun 2011
By Kenneth Bergman - Published on
Format:Audio CD
Schubert: String Quintet in C; Melos Quartet and Mstislav Rostropovich

1828, the last year of Schubert's life, was his "annus mirabilis," in which he composed one masterpiece after another: the Fantasia for piano duet, the Schwanegesang songs, the Mass in E-flat, the last three piano sonatas, and the string quintet in C. Schubert also sketched a new, forward-looking symphony during his final days. One can only dream about how many other great musical treasures this brilliant and exceptional composer might have written had he been granted a longer life.

The string quintet is generally considered to be Schubert's greatest chamber work and, for that matter, one of the greatest chamber works of all time. It features an unusual combination of instruments: two violins, one viola, and two cellos, unlike the violins, two violas, and one cello that Mozart and most others used in their string quintets. The second movement adagio is sublime and in a class with such rarefied music as the Qui Tollis from Mozart's C-minor Mass and the Sarabande from Bach's Second Cello Suite. Hearing this adagio has been described as the closest thing to seeing the face of God. I'm not really a believer (neither was Schubert), but I can understand the sentiment; this movement does seem to come from another world entirely!

I haven't heard the legendary performance by Isaac Stern et al from the 1950's; from all accounts it is an incomparable performance but has mono sound. I've listened to the highly regarded recording of the Alban Berg Quartet with cellist Heinrich Schiff, which is certainly excellent and features very precise playing. The Emerson Quartet performance, with Mstislav Rostropovich as the second cellist, is also quite fine and similar in many ways to that of the Berg Quartet. But I prefer the Melos Quartet, also with Rostropovich, because it is more lyrical and emphasizes the songlike character of Schubert's quintet. That is achieved partly by using more relaxed tempi and partly by achieving a more lush, if perhaps slightly less precise, string sound. Schubert's music almost always requires emphasis on lyricism while not neglecting structural aspects.

The lyricism comes to the fore in the gorgeous second subject of the opening allegro. The exposition is repeated in the Melos, unlike in the Berg. The Berg has a greater sense of urgency in the development section, whereas the Melos strives for a more lyrical tone throughout.

The second movement is one of the comparatively rare times that Schubert used "adagio" as a time signature; more typically he used "andante" in his slow movements. This is a paramount reason why I would choose the Melos over either the Berg or the Emerson. The Melos takes a truly adagio pace for this ethereal music, whereas the others are noticeably faster. Granted that it is not easy for the string players to sustain the long drawn-out notes, but that is required for the otherworldliness of this incomparable music to be apparent. The contrast with the turbulent middle section of the movement is then all the more startling.

The Melos performance has been criticized for Rostropovich overplaying the second cello part in places. I don't hear much evidence of that overall, but the arpeggio-like cello ornament that accompanies the return of the main theme should be secondary to the rest, and Rostropovich should have been more subdued. The Berg cellist is better here.

The Melos group repeats the second part of the scherzo proper, the Berg group does not. The trio section is one of Schubert's most unusual musical creations; it descends from the key of C to the remote key of D-flat, and the tempo slows considerably. Schubert marked it "Andante sostenuto," but in the hands of the Melos group this mysterious music is more adagio and almost comes to a halt before the scherzo resumes. That is most likely slower than what Schubert intended here; it amounts to a return to the otherworldly spirit of the second movement. The Berg group is faster without sacrificing the dark, mysterious character of this section. This movement has always reminded me of an eclipse, going from the bright sunshine of the scherzo to the dark twilight of the trio, then back into the sunlight again!

In the finale, the Melos once again excels at bringing out the tuneful lyricism of the music. The ending constitutes one of Schubert's games with keys; one doesn't know until the last second whether the music will manage to resolve itself in the home key of C.

The Melos recording dates from 1977 but has been re-mastered for improved sound quality (ADD). The resulting sound is very full and helps to emphasize the lush playing of the strings. By comparison, the Berg performance was recorded in 1982, but to me the sound seems to be a bit weaker, especially for the bass. (A 1998 remastered reissue by EMI that I haven't heard may have improved the sound quality.)

To summarize this long review, I love this performance for its lyricism, its lush string playing, and its mystery in the slow parts and can overlook its few flaws. Nevertheless, this is such a great work that one should probably own more than one interpretation. The Berg performance that I've compared the Melos one to here is another fine interpretation with a more emphatic approach that would certainly be a good choice as well.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible 3 Aug 2003
By "i_love_to_smile" - Published on
Format:Audio CD
I am a cellist and had to play this for a summer camp. I ended up with four different quartets versions of this piece. We all know how differently the same piece can sound right? This version by the Melos quartett was my favorite. Their interpretation of Schubert's music was beautiful. The nuances they created and their phrasing enhanced what was written by Schubert. You will not be disappointed with this CD.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a watershed in the recorded history of Schubert's Quintet, an unprecedented reconciliation of apparently incompatible extremes 8 Jun 2012
By Discophage - Published on
Format:Audio CD
From the very opening bars you know you are in for something special: spacious, ample, long-breathed, no sense of rushing or urgency but one of letting the lyrical lines fully blossom, and yet biting, accenting the summit and resolution of the crescendo which Schubert's marks forte but with no accent mark. And that very beginning sets the seal of the whole interpretation: both spacious, extremely lyrical, truly singing, AND biting, vehement, to the point of violence even. There have been urgent and dramatic readings of Schubert's C-Major Quintet (from the Hollywood Quartet in 1951 and Stern-Casals and friends in Prades in 1952, to Kagan-Gutman and friends live in 1989, Archibudelli in 1990 and the Borodin Quartet in 1994, via Heifetz in 1961 and the Taneyev Quartet in 1963 already with Rostropovich, see links in the comments section) and there have been spacious and lyrical ones (from the Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet in 1951 to the Marlboro Quintet in 1986 and the Foné Quartet in 1992, by way of the Aeolian Quartet in 1966), and there have been plenty that were somewhere in between. But the Melos Quartet and Rostropovich in 1977 achieved a unique and unprecedented reconciliation of apparently incompatible extremes.

Incidentally, they were also one of the first ensembles to play the first movement exposition repeat and fit it on an LP-side with the Adagio, preempted only by the Tatrai Quartet and the Alberni Quartet, both recorded two years before (Franz Schubert - String Quintet in C Major (Hungaroton / White Label) and Schubert: String Quintet In C Major- Op 163-D956). Prior to that, the time constraints of an LP side didn't permit it, and other than the Taneyev Quartet nobody had recorded the first-movement repeat; and on the Taneyev Quartet's original Melodiya LP the slow movement was divided between two sides (I think the later reissues for Western consumption repaired that, Schubert: String Quintet Op. 163 Taneyev Quartet With Mistislav Rostropovich). Early CD versions, the 1983 Alban Berg Quartet or the 1984 Orford Quartet, still didn't play it. Melos also conforms to the pronouncements of modern Schubert musicology by not playing the big chord before the repeat bar the second time, before seguing into the development section (and they weren't the first to do so, even among versions that didn't play the repeat), an option which I find both highly disputable and jarring, as it is not based on any original sources (the manuscript is lost) but only on the musicologists' surmise of Schubert's intentions, and I can't imagine that Schubert did NOT intend the "echo" effect deriving from the repetition of the same chord in another key three measures after the repeat bar. Fortunately Melos does not conform to the other pronouncements of said musicology, which shortens the Scherzo's second repeat (I've found only four recordings that did, starting with the 1986 Juilliard Quartet) and requires the Quintet's final chord to be strongly accented rather than played diminuendo - intended by Schubert or not, but a masterful conclusive touch.

And the second movement! Other than the Taneyev Quartet (but is was only belatedly and parcimoniously distributed in the West), nobody had ever taken its outer sections so slowly before, and many thought then and still think now that Melos-Rostropovich were too slow. I don't, I think it elicits a wonderful "time suspended" mood. In 1985 the Lindsay Quartet went even further, and by a margin, also extending (like the Taneyev Quartet had done) the slow approach even to the middle, agitated section (Schubert: String Quintet in C, D. 956). Some also have taken exception with the sonorous, "vulgar" pizzicatti of Rostropovich's second cello (which, indeed, Schubert marks pp, and even ppp on their return at the end). But it is obvious, it makes total sense: not only is it meant to dialogue with the ensuing first violin pizzicatti: it is a death knell, the ticking of time announcing the implacable coming of the Grim Reaper, and Melos' breathless middle section is a violent cry of revolt. Certainly this is not "Urtext", not Schubert's intentions, he wrote no tempo change between the first, "slow" section, which he evidently meant to be paced much faster than what Melos-Rostropovich do, and the middle one, which should be called "agitated" rather than "fast" (and very few versions even attempt anyway to play both sections at similar tempi). But who cares about "Urtext" with a reading of such depth and feeling? This is no "realization" of Schubert's music, this is a re-creation, a reinvention of it.

Melos' tempi in the Scherzo and Finale are not out of line with the interpretive traditions existing then and now. The Scherzo is not particularly fast but played with a kind of despaired vigor which makes it sound "presto" enough, and the same mood is present in the finale, where, unlike many, Melos does not take the more lyrical moments as an excuse to linger and coy. They end with a dashing coda and, as already mentioned, the long decrescendo on the final chord which modern musicology now disputes (Schubert's mark is now understood as an emphatic accent), but which I will ever find a master stroke, and no matter whether Schubert intended it or not.

I've been recommending this version in my other reviews of Schubert's Quintet, although I hadn't heard it in quite a while: I relied on memory. Since I return to it only occasionally, the risk is that, because in the meanwhile I've heard many different versions and opened my ears and mind to many other interpretive approaches, I'll now hear flaws in it that I hadn't perceived before. And indeed, there are a few. The sonics are very detailed - the litmus test being how clearly the viola can be heard - but also somewhat distant and resonant, giving a "symphonic" perspective but depriving the music of some of its impact, as with the violent shouts of the first violin after the first movement repeat bar at 10:57, especially in comparison with subsequent versions, like the excellent Chilingirian Quartet in 1981 (String Quintet in C, a version strikinly close in its overall approach to Melos) or the famed 1983 Alban Berg Quartet (Schubert: Quintet in C, d. 956). For the same reason the Scherzo and Finale sound powerful, but somewhat thick and muddled. Instrumentally, there is a small lack of lyrical bloom and traces of frailty in first violin's Wilhelm Melcher's tone in the long lyrical lines of the first movement, after the repeat bar, especially given the richness of the cello section. I don't hear anything in first cello Peter Buck that seems inferior to second cello Mstislav Rostropovich, but, surprisingly, I've heard crisper phrasing of Schubert's staccato than Rostropovich's in the first movement: he tends to legatoize it, which deprives the music of some of its bite and tends to thicken the textures.

But what still tips the scales for me in favor of this version, even over some that may be very close in approach and better sonically and instrumentally (starting with the Chilingirian Quartet - other than the fact that Chilingirian doens't play the first-movement repeat), is Melos' unique Adagio. Taneyev and Lindsay went even further, but in particular in their very slow middle section they can easily be felt to be way over the top. Rarely, if ever, do I recommend just ONE version of a great composition, because I feel that no one interpretation can say everything about a masterpiece and highlight all its facets, and this one shouldn't be the only one in the collection of any serious lover of Schubert's String Quintet. Ideally it would be complemented by two "extremes", a very urgent version like the Borodin Quartet and a very spacious one like the Marlboro Ensemble or the Foné Quartet. And because of its Adagio I wouldn't exactly call Melos a typical "middle-of-the-road" version either. Still, if you have only one version in your collection, this can be the one, because it achieves such a great combination of the opposites. And for those who'd find Melos-Rostropovich's Adagio over-the-top expressively, the Chilingirian Quartet's version offers a great if unexpected "B-plan" (but without first-movement repeat). Other possible options (and with first-movement repeat) are the 1980 Brandis Quartet (Schubert: Qnt D956), the 1990 Guarneri Quartet (Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C Major, D. 956 (Op. 163)) and the Melos Quartet's remake from 1993, with second cellist Wolfgang Boettcher (Schubert: Quintett in C-dur). And if you are not afraid of a really extreme Adagio, don't miss the Lindsay Quartet (link above). See my reviews for more details.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The music of the Wannsee Conference (video)... 22 Aug 2012
By Myrna Minkoff - Published on
Format:Audio CD
Lord knows, I do not want to give this lovely music the kiss of death. But I am here to report that it is the music -- the only music -- used in the excellent BBC/HBO video, "Conspiracy." After the conference has ended, the host, Adolph Eichmann, who is one of Heydrich's flunkies, puts a recording of this Schubert work on the phonograph...and comments that it is sentimental s__t. (I mean to say that it was this Schubert work that was used, not this particular performance.)

Those of us who try to fathom the "heart" of Nazis are always interested in their musical taste. Must not have been any Wagner at hand.

(Kenneth Branaugh is great as Reinhard Heydrich. A DVD well worth watching for those with a taste for a video that is all talk and barely goes outside the famous house at Wannsee. Nonetheless, it is visually appealling, a feast as a "period piece." But the meat, of course, is the personalities and point-of-views of the "gentlemen" in attendance.)
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