String Quintet in C, D956
Elias String Quartet [Sara Bitlloch & Donald Grant (violins), Robin Ireland (guest viola) & Marie Bitlloch (cello)] with Alice Neary (cello)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: 4 September, 2017
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
So sensitive was this interpretation that it would be unfair to suggest that it was understated but the gentle, often poignant refinement of Schubert’s beautiful melodies was sometimes made at the expense of emphasis and contrast. One wonders which member of the ensemble was responsible for these moments of subjectivism. Is it the leader or did the players confer?
Schubert marks the first movement Allegro ma non troppo and there is no other tempo indication. In this performance the opening was strong, unhurried and dramatic but at the first fortissimo the music moved forward making the preceding bars seem like a slow introduction. This means that modification of tempo has to be managed in time for the exposition repeat; similarly the later reappearance of the opening bars also had to be subject to adjustment. These modifications were made skilfully, the shaping of the music was certainly responsive and each succeeding melody was presented in an eloquent manner.
Attention was given to the realisation of Schubert’s frequent use of pizzicato accompaniment. The viola-player (Robin Ireland replacing regular Elias member Martin Saving) is given this responsibility in the elegant cello-led second subject but these adornments were very subdued. When cello (usually the second one) is asked to do likewise a very dry tone was used – not at all suitable for the delicate violin phrases that it accompanies in the Adagio. It does nevertheless suggest carefully thought-through preparation: this movement was very slow and extremely intense; the quiet playing, sometimes verging on the limits of audibility, was magical. The more positive central section was given with the minimum of emphasis yet it blended with the withdrawn, unhurried reading.
I was puzzled by the way the musicians shaped the Scherzo. Schubert wrote a twenty-six-bar coda and I do not understand why this was also placed before the Trio. Because the Trio therefore followed a very final-sounding statement, the reduced tempo required by Schubert made it seem like a separate slow movement – and slow it certainly was here.
I have no reservations about the delightfully rhythmic reading of the Finale; the fractionally delayed upbeat of the leader’s first entry indicated that the Hungarian nature of the movement was to be stressed, as indeed it was. Cheerful further melodies suggested the style of a Viennese dance by Schubert’s close contemporary Joseph Lanner.
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