The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Fine Arts Quartet, Gil Sharon (viola)
Bruckner’s String Quintet is a score from the composer’s maturity, completed in 1878 around the time that he was writing his fifth and sixth symphonies, and during his lifetime it enjoyed some success. Since they are on the scale of an orchestral score, the four movements call for a performance of exceptional strength from its five musicians. For example, the jagged scherzo appears to come straight from one of the symphonies and poses exceptional demands on the performers’ staying power as well as on their technical ability. Bruckner was later persuaded to change the scherzo for a much less exacting Intermezzo. The Fine Arts Quartet with second violist Gil Sharon revert to the earlier version, but also include the Intermezzo as a separate track.
Seventeen years earlier, Bruckner wrote a string quartet that was only discovered in a notebook after his death, and this time there’s an alternative concluding Rondo. Though he was already 38 at the time of its composition, the work can be looked upon as a student score and was much influenced by Schumann. Also in four movements (again both alternative final movements are included here), it is an attractive piece, though its interest comes more from the composer’s name than any intrinsic value.
The supplemented Fine Arts Quartet is ideally forceful in its approach in the quintet and intermezzo, though the players cannot hide the challenge that the work presents. Intonation is not always as clean as it should be, as becomes particularly apparent in the Scherzo. The musicians seem happier in the remaining items, and throughout produce a nicely blended quality.
The recording offers a realistic balance between the instruments.