Finished in 1879, the Quintet is thus a mature work by a composer who had already written - and in the case of the Fourth and Fifth, revised - five symphonies. There is a always a richness of sonority and harmony in this music which has given rise to the cliché that Bruckner's idiom is too dense and orchestral, an accusation hardly borne out by the delicacy of some passages. The first subject is a melancholy, bittersweet melody which cascades down the scale before yielding to a more restless figure and is passed from instrument to instrument. The Scherzo is an odd hobgoblin dance played with great flexibility and charm here by the Raphael Ensemble. It was initially scorned by Joseph Hellmesberger, the begetter of the quintet, as too difficult and abstruse, so Buckner accommodated him by writing an Intermezzo - here appended as a bonus - as a simpler, shorter alternative but retaining the same Trio that we hear in the Scherzo. However, the original Scherzo was soon re-admitted and in 1885 even Hellmesberger's ensemble was playing it in preference to the Intermezzo. Listening to the sublime serenity of the Adagio, it is hard to believe that Bruckner was unfamiliar with the slow movements of Beethoven's late quartets; this is the most massive and, yes, symphonic of the movements, and the Raphael Ensemble play it superbly with an unhurried weight and assurance, sometimes suspending the melodic line on a thread of tone. The Finale is the most controversial of the movements in that it can evince elements of over-reaching and fussy complexity which threaten to fragment.Read more ›
I have numerous recordings of the Raphael Ensemble and they are consistently excellent. The current recording of Bruckner and Richard Strauss follows the pattern. The ensemble plays beautifully, with effortless technically-sound execution and a great deal of musicality and interpretive focus (i.e. they know how they want to play the music and go out and do it). Just to take one highlight, the first transitional passage in the Adagio from Anton Bruckner's Quintet (1879) features a delicate interplay between the instruments, including falling pairs of eighth notes in the accompaniment and a broad melody in the 1st violin. The Raphaels expertly manage to balance the texture so each of the voices is brought out while preserving a serene mood. This Adagio was for me the highlight of the Quintet, although the opening Allegro is also notably attractive. Completed very close to the contrapuntally-daunting 5th symphony, Bruckner again shows off his part-writing skills here. I didn't like the scherzo nearly as much as the rest of the Quintet but overall it is a strong, worthwhile composition. In general, I think he was very comfortable with chamber ensemble writing but had a greater liking for the symphonic form. The recording also contains a brief Intermezzo, which sounds like an incomplete fragment, probably intended to be part of the quintet.
The CD also contains the prelude from Richard Strauss' 1942 opera "Capriccio" arranged for string sextet. This is my favorite single track on the disc - really attractive. It just gets to me.
So why only 4 stars? The sound is disappointingly astringent, with a lot of glare, a surprise from a high-quality label like Hyperion.Read more ›