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Honey and Violence,
This review is from: Schubert: String Quintet - Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Audio CD)
There's a wonderful synergy to Janine Jansen's latest disc for Decca, in which the prophetic qualities of Schubert's late String Quintet and Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht reflect across the decades. The music late 1820s Vienna is played as if composed in the full heat of Romanticism, while Schoenberg's late night confession foresees even darker truths. Performed with aching warmth and often vivid attack, this is one of 2013's must-have discs.
Recordings of both of works are, of course, legion. Schubert's String Quintet in particular has many great exponents. Among recent accounts, I've reviewed the Belcea Quartet's account with Valentin Erben, the Tokyo Quartet and David Watkin and the Takács and Ralph Kirshbaum's recording on Hyperion . Jansen and her hand-picked team of Boris Brovtsyn, Amihai Grosz, Jens Peter Maintz and Torleif Thedéen provide their own determined path between those readings. While offering something of the beauty of the Tokyo and Takács, Jansen and her colleagues imbue Schubert's nigh-deathbed work with some of the Belcea's embittered punch.
The opening movement and Adagio have a honeyed warmth, yet there's energy here too, with snap in the violin's scurrying lines and a rather bruised cutting-short of the phrases in the second movement - still a little on the Andante side, for my taste, as at Wigmore Hall last year. This lively rhetoric is also apparent in the subtly highlighted passing of the melodic line between the players. This vivacity contrasts with the velvety almost muted tone that has been captured by Decca in the Konzerthaus in Dortmund, which by sheer variance highlights those more spirited aspects in the performance.
Schoenberg's imaginative response to Richard Dehmel's poem is likewise played with verve and intimacy. In many ways this feels like the more obviously 'chamber' work, reversing our expectations of the Schubert and Schoenberg alike. Yet there's plenty of drama here too, as the opening bars carry the weighty baggage of infidelity, seemingly desperate to confess.
It brilliantly prepares for the violence that follows, in which the virtuosic exposure of Schoenberg's original string sextet line-up adds a bitterness to the sound that is sometimes glossed over in the later plusher orchestration. Such savagery likewise tees up the resolution, which Jansen and her fellow musicians deliver with a truly ethereal sweetness. Separately, these works can prove searing. Hearing them together, as here, is not for the emotionally insecure.