on 29 May 2012
The Quintet is beautifully executed, I rally can't say any more than that. I really bought this disc for 'Death and the Maiden', though, and this may be a matter where individual listeners may have differing opinions. The opening of the first movement contains some longer pauses than other readings - that by the Takacs Quartet, for example. It took me a while to adapt to this, but if you prefer a more brisk execution, this may not be your first choice recording. The overall musicianship is excellent throughout, and the Presto movement is rattled off with breathtaking verve. A worthy recording, which is a frequent flyer in my car stereo.
Here are three of Schubert's greatest chamber works presented in committed, scrupulous readings. The sound has great body but is also very clear, making the music feel bang up-to-date. It has the excitement of new music, as if Schubert were writing in the here and now. My personal favourite is the G major Quartet, but the more deeply melancholy Death and The Maiden may appeal to some more, while the slow movement of the Quintet is usually held up as one of music's most sublime moments. I have only done a brief comparison with the Pavel Haas Quartet on Supraphon, released last year, but without the G major Quartet. I found them not quite as appealing sonically as this EMI recording - the Haas are a bit more ragged-sounding, whereas the Belcea are all-bloom ... (more Rembrandt to the Belcea's Vermeer?)
This is a very good double CD – and very good value. These are among Schubert's finest chamber works and they are all very well played by the excellent Belcea Quartet.
The music itself scarcely needs endorsement from me. Death And The Maiden and the great last G major quartet are among the greatest of all string quartets and the quintet, of course is a pinnacle of the chamber repertoire. They are all full of beauty, passion and sometimes turbulent confusion, all of which is very well expressed by the Belceas, who are established now as one of the world's leading quartets.
The players' technique is impeccable, with faultless intonation and superb precision which also shows a real empathy between them. They adopt quite a brisk, almost robust approach much of the time which works very well, especially in the more darkly emotional passages. I think that in the famous Adagio of the Quintet that they perhaps lose a little of that trembling, aetherial beauty which makes it such an extraordinary piece of music, but that's a matter of personal taste and others plainly love it. Certainly their darkly passionate approach to the opening of Death And The Maiden is perfectly suited and quite spine-tingling at times.
There are a lot of great recordings of these works and this won't supersede them in my affections, but it's a set which will sit proudly among them and which I shall play often. The recorded sound is excellent, and I can recommend this warmly.