The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Artemis Quartet, Truls Mørk (cello)
Composer: Schubert

These are performances of great musical certainty. They have clearly been thought through in minute detail and have emerged as readings of character and confidence. A little too much so, perhaps, for while they are full of carefully crafted subtleties, they also tend to be a little over-coloured and, in this most plastic and fluid of music, rather rigid, as if the musical plan has been worked out thoroughly in advance and is now being efficiently executed. They are certainly keen on drama: the sforzando semiquavers of the Quartettsatz first movement burst in like one of the nastier supernatural manifestations in the Wolf’s Glen of Weber’s Freischütz. In Artemis hands energetic Schubert is always vivid, and melodic Schubert is caressed and finely sculpted.

The Quintet keeps moving, with a nicely judged two-in-a-bar pulse in the first movement and a sense of movement in the second, sufficient to give shape to the melody in the inner parts, while allowing the outer instruments space to make their languid comments. In the first movement, too, the players allow the great melodies time to breathe without indulgence, and without – as some do – constantly adjusting the speed. (They do the repeat, incidentally, but leave out the final G major chord before moving on to the development.) The Scherzo and finale are full of energy. Throughout, the playing is technically immaculate, and the ensemble borders on the uncanny. Even with the reservations mentioned above, these are very fine performances indeed. The recording is resonant, although close enough for some occasionally intrusive breathing.    

Tim Homfray