CD review: Schubert String Quintet in C

First published in the Guardian on 19 November, 2015

“What would Schubert have done if he had heard Dragonetti play?” Maybe not one of the world’s great musical mysteries — Domenico Dragonetti was a great virtuoso double bassist; Schubert was reasonably fond of the instrument — but this recording pursues the notion and concludes with a fun new version of the C-major String Quintet arranged for string quartet plus double bass instead of the usual extra cello. We forfeit the sweetness of the two cellos crooning their high tenor duets, but instead we get heft, and an extra darkness that’s right for the angst under the tuneful surface of so much late Schubert. The Finale theme gains the umph of a bawdy tavern song and there’s a kick to the Scherzo that’s deep enough to feel in your stomach. The only place the arrangement doesn’t work is the rapturous Adagio, where chunky pizzicato interjections keep things earthbound. The playing is terrific: tasteful phrasing, gracious ensemble intuition and a string sound that’s fibrous, luminous and poised.