Monday, 23 April 2018

The Pavel Haas Quartet, and Schubert's String Quintet

There are probably only a few hundred musical works at the very top of the tree. We have to come up with a better term for great music other than the somewhat ambiguous classical music. Perhaps eternal music, or evergreen music, or ever-lasting music. Schubert's string quintet in C major, D 956, was among the works Schubert finished in the last few weeks of his life. He never heard it played, nor saw it in print. Listening to it 190 years after it was written, it still sounds as fresh and as alive as music written recently. I can recall a surprising number of people over the years who have nominated the adagio of the string quintet as being music they would choose to die to. It is music I have known and loved for most of my lifetime; but then, I really love Schubert's music, especially the late piano and chamber works.

I have several recordings of the quintet, including the famous 1951 one with Casals, Tortelier, Isaac Stern, et al, and the 1952 recording by the Amadeus Quartet and William Pleeth, the recording I grew up with. But now the only recording I want to listen to is the 2013 version with the Pavel Haas Quartet (with Danjulo Ishizaka, cello). Everything that is in Schubert's last chamber work comes over with the Pavel Haas team. The playing is all about Schubert, and not about lovely instruments or lovely playing. The recording and balance are excellent (Supraphon) as is the coupling (the Death and the Maiden Quartet D 810). Three gold stars. The Pavel Haas is a wonderful string quartet.

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