Schubert String Quintet in C major D956 (1828)
CBSO Soloists [Kate Suthers and Bryony Morrison (violins), Amy Thomas (viola), Miguel Fernandes and Helen Edgar (cellos)]
CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Thursday 10 February 2022 2pm
Written by Richard Whitehouse
Just one work in this afternoon’s Centre Stage but, given this was Schubert’s String Quintet, no-one could complain of being short-changed. Music, moreover, that has featured regularly in recitals given by members of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra over the years (not least the first live performance for this reviewer, given at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in the early 1980s as the second half of an imposing programme which opened with Brahms’s First Sextet) and that remains an emotionally involving experience like few others.
Pacing this work so its textural richness is allowed full rein without any loss of momentum is at least half the story, not least an opening movement whose contrasting themes need to find expressive accord from the outset. The present account succeeded handsomely in this respect, not least by varying the balance between these themes in the repeat of the exposition, and if the development marginally lost focus in its earlier stages, the heightened lead-back into the reprise brought an emotional frisson almost matched by the stark conclusiveness of the coda.
Whether or not the finest movement as to actual content, the Adagio is often the highlight of a performance – those outer sections shot through with a yearning regret which was tangibly in evidence. While the central episode could have been even more agitated, the spellbinding transition into the initial music was unerringly judged. Nor was anything amiss in the contrast between the Scherzo and its trio; the former bracingly impetuous, the latter inwardly fatalistic (and making the most of those rapturous two-cello sonorities) without ever becoming turgid.
If the finale often feels anti-climactic, this is not because of its relative concision but through an inherently Viennese ingratiation as was rightly played down in preference for a rhythmic forthrightness maintained through to a close that conveyed defiance as much as decisiveness. It duly set the seal on an impressive reading as drew an enthusiastic response from the near-capacity house. Hopefully an equally sizable attendance will be in evidence for next Friday evening’s recital, featuring Bach and Piazzolla, which comes courtesy of El Ultimo Tango.
You can read more about that next Centre Stage recital, and book tickets, on the CBSO website