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5.0 out of 5 stars
Schubert: The Late Quartets; Quintet
Format: Audio CD|Change
Price:£19.32+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

on 9 January 2012
Hundreds of thousands if not millions of knowledgeable words have been written about Schubert's late works. Even played by rather indifferent amateurs, they are quite sublime. Here they are played by a quartet at the top of its game. Death and the Maiden and the Quintet would both be on the short list for my eight desert island discs - probably these versions.
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on 13 March 2018
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on 22 January 2013
The Emerson have delivered a passionate, articulate performance of these works. The posthumous quartet, No.15 has an extraordinary range of emotions and these players, as one voice, inhabit them all. Highly recommended.
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on 2 April 2017
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on 3 March 2015
Excellent! I love it.
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on 19 January 2015
Well done 'Emerson', a marvellous performance.
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To say the least, nobody purchasing this set is likely to regret it. Just at the pedestrian level of value-for-quantity the value is brilliant, and at the artistic level it is more brilliant still. The professionalism and technical proficiency of the Emerson group probably needs little highlighting by now, but these players are musicians first and foremost. Apart from perfect intonation and ultra-perfect ensemble they have added variety to their unfailing beauty of sound. The start of the G major quartet, which can sometimes be a bit of an assault on the ears, is done ideally, with the exploding chords sonorous and majestic. At the other end of the volume-scale there is a wonderful breathless hush near the end of the variations in the D minor, and in this same quartet I don't think I ever heard the enchanting second subject of the first movement phrased so beautifully.

How do they relate to Schubert? For me, Schubert is a composer apart. All his compositions are early works, and in the five pieces comprised in this set I sense a steady advance in certainty and consistency. By the time of the quintet he is fully inside his own individual style, but at every stage of his development there are sequences in which someone or something beyond the merely human seems to be speaking or singing, using him as a mouthpiece, and it taxes even the greatest of his exponents to detect and express these. They are not a matter of one specific idiom, but of several, and the better the interpreters handle such passages the more I find myself longing for some ideal that I refuse to consider unreachable, because I have always heard it reached by someone at some time. One issue is represented by the second subject in the G major's first movement. When this comes round for the second time, in the recapitulation with new counterpoint, the Emersons are perfect for me. However at its first appearance this theme, with its muttering self-repetitions, has a somnambulistic air to it that the Novak quartet on my old LP capture ideally for me, and I wonder whether the Emersons are just a little bright-eyed and clean-limbed. The sense of that grew on me as the set progressed. The great melody from the first movement of the quintet (with Rostropovich on the second cello) suits me fine as they do it, but in the trio of the G major's scherzo while they sing the melody like angels what I want is not people like angels but the angels themselves. I have heard them in this movement before. In a different mode of expression there is the G major's last movement. Schubert produced a similar finale to his late C minor piano sonata, and I would have been more than satisfied with the Emersons here, particularly with the magnificent tone at the end, if I did not know Ogdon's performance of the sonata movement, one of the greatest interpretations I ever heard, with the whole huge piece seemingly taken in a single breath.

The very first and the very last things on this set are especially testing for interpreters of Schubert. The last movement in the quintet, a piece in a very special Schubertian idiom, is my idea of unqualified perfection here. The speed is not too fast, the variations in pace are superbly judged, there is the right sense of a heavy and almost dragging undertow to the rhythm in the accompaniment, and the phrasing of the second theme is something to live for. The set starts with the A minor quartet, and here I held my breath, because with that opening theme we are communing with something not of this world. Verdi, so immune in general to German influence and so gifted with melody himself, explicitly takes off his hat to it at the start of his Requiem. The balance of the melody against the hypnotic wavy accompaniment is perfect here, so is it my absolute ideal? It's somewhere near it at least.

Only one movement out of the whole eighteen seems to me not quite right. The last movement of the D minor is a little fast for my liking, but I could live with that. However the Emersons' fast tempo really does seem symptomatic of a sense that they have missed a deeper tone to the movement, and I felt that in the cadence-theme to the exposition and recapitulation in particular. My thoughts reverted to how this is done by the Gabrieli Quartet on my beloved old LP, with the impression of an apparition of the four horsemen of somewhere that makes me catch my breath to this day. On the other hand, for many people the high spot of such a set is likely to be the slow movement of the quintet, and I can report a reading to rank with the finest here, time held in abeyance as it should be and the control of the sustained long notes perfect beyond perfection.

The set dates from as long ago as 1988, I see, and I wonder how these divinely gifted artists do these pieces nearly twenty years on. The recording is excellent, an absolute necessity for playing like this. The liner notes are also good, except for the one on the quintet, and I seem not to have mentioned so far that we are given the outstandingly lovely fragment of the intended slow movement to the Quartettsatz. Altogether, an outstanding issue in nearly every way. I am reminded of Schubert's epitaph `A rich treasure and still fairer hopes'. These players are young enough to do these quartets again, as they are to do Beethoven's again, and I hope I am still young enough to hear how they do them.
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on 4 January 2008
This three CD set is a superb introduction, not only to the string quartets of Schubert, but to his music as a whole. The playing of the Emerson String Quartet is of the highest quality. Some people have voiced the opinion that they exaggerate the dynamics of the music, propelling it into a later romantic world that that it naturally inhabits. However to my ears the Emerson Quartet bring a marvellous fusion of the old and the new to these performances. Yes, there is a muscular approach to dynamics, but it is welded to a sensitivity and quality of tone which remind me of an earlier generation of recordings, so that only the lack of background crackle wakes me to the fact that I am listening to a CD recording of the late 1980's rather than a classic LP recording of the 1950's.

CD 1

The `Rosamund' String Quartet in A Minor of 1824 unwinds over it's 33 minutes from the forceful gestures of its opening movement towards it's more carefree country dance tune inspired conclusion.

The Emerson Quartet show their mastery of all the many moods of the famous `Death and the Maiden' quartet. The influence, and indeed the techniques of Beethoven are all over the score, but handled in a way that immediately identifies this as Schubert's work. Much of this is due the way he brought the style of his songs into his chamber music. There is a natural way with a melody and a constant responsive fluidity in the arrangement, as with composer expressing each new shade of meaning in a song.

CD 2

The three quarter hour long Quartet in G minor is grandly symphonic in it's length and intent. This being Schubert the seriousness of the first two movements is balanced by the lighter mood of the Scherzo and final Allegro, not that there is anything slight about them. I think of last movement as being quintessential fast movement Schubert: music with a sturdy joy. It is as if this ever troubled composer was seeking to clothe himself in the vibrant strength he felt he lacked.

The tantalising fragment of the unfinished Quartet in C minor. The Allegro is filled with an unstoppable optimism that propels it forward, to be followed by the first two minutes of a beautiful Andante that finishes - well it sound as through it finishes mid phrase.


The final CD is a recording of the great Quintet in C major. Schubert composed this work in 1828 in his last months as he faced death. Despite this it is a thoroughly optimistic and assured work and one of his finest, luxuriating in its generous 54 minute length. Indeed it is one of the finest chamber music works ever. The Emerson Quartet, joined by Mstislav Rostropovitch on second cello, rise to the occasion and deliver a top notch performance.
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on 11 October 2011
Schubert: The Late Quartets; Quintet

This is amazingly good value - three CDs when all I really wanted was the C minor quintet but it's reminded me of, and introduced me to, some exquisite Schubert. I can't comment on the performance - it's as good as I want or need.
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