To my ears this hybrid SACD/CD disc is a real winner.
The venerated Schubert string quintet (D956) surely needs no introduction. Few listeners will say this quintet is not among Shubert's best works, and even fewer will say it is not among the greatest chamber music so far written.
My fav shelf bench marks have been: Cleveland Qt w Ma, a Music From Marlboro reading with Felix Galimir and company, and Lazlo Varga sitting in with the Hungarian Quartet on EMI. This disc easily joins whatever select group you may already cherish.
First off, the super audio surround sound is simply gorgeous, in a subtle, rich, warm way that does not ever call attention to high resolution sound as such while engineering concentrates on serving up the most vivid recreation from the recording studio. Bravo to Harmonia Mundi for bothering with SACD for this release, because I can just imagine some marketing folks somewhere, opining that a quintet only has five string players and surely underwhelms the high resolution media. Not so, not so, not so. This SACD could indeed serve as a fine demonstration disc, not least because the Tokyo Quartet plays on a matched set of Stradivarius instruments on loan to the players from the Nippon Music Foundation (who purchased these outstanding and glorious violins, viola, and cello from the Corcoran Gallery in about 1995). If ever a stringed instrument deserved our best engineering work, surely these instruments qualify for the race.
On top of the fine string instruments, matched to super audio sound, we get one of the great chamber works of all time. This in itself might be called a home run in some quarters.
What Tokyo plus guest cellist David Watkins bring to the Schubert is simply a deep, winning combination of precision, warmth, and subtlety. These players have little need to underline or highlight the interplay of light and shadow, lyrical lift and dark tones, innate to the quintet. To that end, perhaps some listeners will find their reading under-dramatized; I do not. I hear any number of rich, passing inflections that betray what sounds like great care, great musical dedication to the composer and to this enduring chamber work. If the phrasing and intonation are laser-ed precision, the recorded balance among the five string instruments could hardly be bettered. We simply get a prize meld of room resonance (not too much), clarity (all five players are vividly heard ... listen closely and hear a cornucopia of individual arts flooding out of five speakers), and overall presence.
The filler work on the disc is the quartet movement, D 703. It comes down to us as a fragment that the composer was unable or unwilling to finish, rather like the so-called "Unfinished symphony". Quality tells in the end, however, so this single movement manages to suit its listing after the quintet is done. Again, Tokyo brings rich, warm, subtle playing to bear, and one quickly forgets anything but the musical movement at hand.
Move over, then ... Cleveland with Ma, Galimir and friends at Marlboro, Varga and the Hungarian. I introduce a new disc to the fav shelf with no misgivings at all. If you already love the Schubert quintet D956, then you owe it to yourself to give this disc a chance, in super audio surround if your rig permits. If you do not yet know and love the quintet, I think you could hardly have a better first introduction, all told, than giving this reading a few spins. Besides. When was the last time you had the tingling pleasures of four Strads, holding forth in your very own listening space? Five stars.