Sometimes a negative review will have a result opposite to the one intended. Santa Fe Listener's dismissal made me very curious to hear this recording. Those who follow his reviews know SFL for a very opinionated reviewer, sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the most disputable. And he's expressed, in other reviews of Schubert's C-Major Quintet, opinions that are so at odds with my own, not just in value but even, sometimes, in his very description of the nature of the interpretation - while I understand that he could find the Alban Berg Quartet "too aggressive" (I call them "intense and vehement"), I don't know what he hears in the Melos Quartet with Rostropovich that he would call "more elegant than intense" and "distinctly low-key", with "only modest ambitions as for as impact goes" - that I anticipated something similar with the present recording. And after all, the Guarneri Quartet and Leonard Rose were no menial, minor-league performers that can easily be shrugged off, they were among America's top chamber musicians of those years: the recording was made in 1975, three years after the Juilliard Quartet's first (not reissued on CD, not to be confused with their 1986 digital remake, both with cellist Bernard Greenhouse from the Beaux Arts Trio, Franz Schubert: Quintet, D. 956 (C major)), and two years before the famous Melos Quartet-Rostropovich version, Schubert: String Quintet In C Major, D. 956. Contrary to SFL's claim I did find some printed evidence that the version was "acclaimed" in the LP era, although the evidence is scanty (see my comment under SFL's review); which doesn't mean either that it was rejected by the critics back then, but reflects only the fact that I don't have access to the reviews possibly published in the Stereo Review or similar magazines in 1975. Note also that, like Juilliard (and Melos), the Guarneris re-recorded the Quintet in digital, in 1990 (a version released by Philips only in 1993), with the same Bernard Greenhouse who had partnered twice with the Juilliard Quartet: Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C Major, D. 956 (Op. 163). But more about that in the conclusive paragraph.
So, verdict, then: to an extent I think I understand what SFL heard and what he reacted negatively to, although I (mostly) don't react as he did.
Relative to the sonics, I was first bothered by the dry acoustics pointed by SFL and many reviewers of the CD reissue, but not any more with repeated and more careful hearings. Sure, they are dry, boxy (e.g. with little resonance) and close-up (you can hear the performers' breath intakes and even moans at times), very analytical, and they may deprive the first violin's soaring lines in the first movement of some lyrical bloom. But they are clear and detailed - the part-writing, the counter melodies, the "humming together" a third or an octave apart come out better than any recording before and most after. And heard on A-B comparison, many recordings from the pre-digital (including Melos) and digital era sound impossibly resonant in comparison, as if recorded in churches or from a great distance - not something that bothered or even struck me when I first listened to them alone: the ear (mine at least) adjusts to many different acoustic perspectives.
I see little to object with Guarneri's first movement. Tempi are well balanced, neither as breathlessly urgent as in the 1951 Hollywood Quartet style (brought to caricature by Heifetz and friends in 1961) nor spacious to sluggish as in the circa 1950 Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet tradition (whose extreme had been the Aeolian Quartet in 1966, topped later by the 1986 Marlboro ensemble and 1992 Foné Quartet - product links in the comments section), just a touch more animated than Melos before the repeat bar (repeat which, as was the unanimous habit before the mid 1970s due to the LPs time constraints, they do not observe - the Alberni Quartet, Tatrai Quartet, both from 1975, and Melos Quartet were the first ensembles to play it on LP), but markedly more animated than them from the repeat bar to the end (9:31 to 9:58), which, to limit myself to recordings from the LP era, puts them in the interpretive family of the famous 1965 Amadeus Quartet, the 1973 Smetana Quartet (a great version marred by an impossibly fast Adagio) and the (mediocre) 1975 Tatrai Quartet.
In points of details, the Guarneris engage into the march theme at 0:54 with bite and a fine sense of forward motion, the vehement shouts at 1:07 are played rhythmically a bit squarely and with a certain lack of power (wich again may be due to the dry acoustics as much as to first violin Arnold Steinhardt's tonal production) which elicits an impression that is more jaunty than truly intense, but intensity builds at 1:36 on the surging harmonic progression leading to the second subject. But the same relative lack of power and intensity from first violin is met again in the shouts after the repeat bar, at 5:29 - not that there is anything disgraceful either, these are very subtle points of interpretation. The Guarneris apply a very minimal relaxing of tempo on the second subject at 1:52, and convey the lyricism through phrasings rather than tempo, with even discreet and very expressive touches of portamento from Steinhardt (try 3:07), conveying an almost (but not quite) plangent mood. But because they never let slackness of rhythm and tempo enter, because the little marches at 4:31 and 5:17 are crisply articulated as they should, because the chords just before (5:02) and after the repeat bar (5:09) snap, because Rose is always crisp and biting in his staccato, eliciting a mood of grim doggedness, because of the relative lack of lyrical bloom of Steinhardt already mentioned, the overall impression is more of grim, dramatic urgency than lyricism. If SFL got the impression that this isn't a smiling Schubert, he was right. But whether Schubert's valedictory Quintet should smile is a matter of personal preference - I don't think it is in the essence of the music, it is only a matter of how the notes are interpreted (e.g. both construed and played).
There is nothing egregious in Guarneri's Adagio - the opening tempo, up to the agitated section, is rather flowing, more in the line of the 1951 Hollywood Quartet and the Stern-Casals group in Prades in 1952 than of the slower, "time suspended" approach of most recent performers, although Guarneri certainly don't convey the impression of being fast. And, precisely, what may have given SFL the impression of "long bowing and phrases that have little emotional impact" is the very unique mood of appeasement and soothing generated by Steinhardts gentle, almost meek playing, with very few and reduced dynamic swells. How one reacts is of course entirely subjective: I find it very touching and certainly distinctive, not so much an "acceptance of death" or Schubert's anticipation of Ives' Unanswered Question or whatever feeling Schubert's Adagio usually conveys, as putting baby to sleep - maybe forever, as in Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. But the middle section is certainly brisk, vehement and dramatic. However, because the dry and analytical acoustics expose them so much, the syncopations of the accompanying middle voices (second violin and viola) sound very mechanical, more like hiccups than like the torments of the soul - presumably not the effect intended by Schubert. One other miss is the bridge section leading back to the Adagio, at 8:16, with its sobbing first violin: here it is marred by a deficit of expression due to a tempo that is not only too fast, but also inconsistently faster than what surrounds it.
Where SFL is spot on is calling the Guarneri's Scherzo a "clog dance". Rarely is the Scherzo taken as fast as Schubert's "presto" indication seems to indicate - for that, go to Heifetz, Archibudelli in 1990 or the Orpheus Quartet in 1994. Most ensembles take it more as an "Allegro moderato", and substitute powerful vigor to sheer drive. A number of ensembles have taken it even slower than that, a tradition that goes back to the 1935 Pro Arte Quartet and whose most extreme representatives would be 1975 Tatrai Quartet and the 1992 Foné Quartet. Among that group, Guarneri is hardly slower than the Hungarian, Bulgarian, Alberni, Melos Quartets or even the Alban Berg Quartet, their opening tempo is exactly the same as the Chilingirian Quartet or the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and they are still faster than the LaSalle Quartet. Yet they feel more plodding than most, an impression born not of the few seconds of difference (as shown by an A-B comparison with the Lincoln Center and Chilingirian versions) but of the rhythmic heaviness of their bowing.
Likewise, SFL's impression that "the finale lacks joy", or even "variety of tone", is one I share, but it is interesting to try and understand why. Certainly, the Guarneris launch into the movement ragingly, with teeth clinched so to speak, and they develop considerable - if grim - drama in the most dramatic moments, as the return of the opening motive at 3:42, the fugato section at 4:36 or the dashing coda at 8:06. And maybe it is no coincidence that they should play the composition's last chord not as the diminuendo indicated by the score, but as a forceful accent, which is how, according to modern Schubert scholarship, the arrow sign above the chord should be construed - a much more banal option in my opinion. But they also markedly ease their tempo, more perceptibly than they had in the first movement, when comes the second subject at 0:55 and upon its return after the fermata at 5:47, which should have provided lyrical contrast and relief, and yet it doesn't. It hangs on subtle things, fiddle tone (both) slightly pinched - not nearly as disagreeably as with the Amadeus Quartet, but enough to give the general timbral color a viola aspect rather than violin radiancy, cellos lacking vibrato and lyrical bloom, lending their own melodies, again, an astringent and almot grim aspect where they should be (or could have been) tender, throbbing, buoyant and/or soaring (as at 1:53 or 2:47). I've read comments criticizing Steinhardt's pitch imprecision: other than a couple of occasional blemishes so minor as to be almost imperceptible and always in moments of extreme vehemence where they are in situation (like the highest note of the Finale's coda, at 8:51), I hear none of it, and I think the accusation confuses the issues of pitch and timbral color.
A grim, dramatic and timbrally greyish Quintet isn't necessarily a bad, or "wrong" Quintet - after all, this is Schubert a few weeks before his death, not insouciant trout fishing. But the Guarneri's Quintet is grim, dramatic and timbrally greyish: whether the listener will adhere to their view is a matter of personal preference. It comes with the usual filler, the Quartet movement (Quartet No. 12), recorded five years before with more natural-feeling sonics, and realizing a better integration of the dramatic and the lyrical, but with no repeat, a choice rarely made since the 78s era.
Before buying, note however that the Guarneri Quartet's 1990 remake with Bernard Greenhouse (see link above), though it comes with no filler (but with first-movement repeat), is a better choice. The sonics are much more natural and comfortable. Interpretively, it is uncanny how little has changed, to the point of sounding often like a carbon copy of 1975 (and that extends even to some of cellist David Soyer's faint moans, which occur exactly at the same spots) to which some unknown sonic wizardry would have been applied. And where the interpretation HAS changed, it is for the better, solving those problems I have noted at the end of the agitated section of the Adagio or in the Scherzo. All this makes the remake not only the Guarneri's better version, but a great version in its own right, one that, thanks to the sonic improvement, doesn't sound so much grim as realizing a great combination of the dramatic and the lyrical. Unless you are a fan of Leonard Rose, the new version really limits the interest of this one to completists such as myself (unless of course, at the time of buying, the price makes a significant difference).