Franz Schubert never heard his Quintet in C; he composed it in September of 1828. On November 19, he died.
He would have been pleased by last night's performance in Meyerhoff Hall on the next-to-last program of the Baltimore Symphony's Summer MusicFest.
The composer surely understood how the difficulties -- both technical and musical -- of the Quintet. There are moments when the five instruments -- two violins, a viola and two cellos -- must sound like 100. And there is not a single moment in this taxing, 40-minute work in which each player, whether assigned to sustained or agitated melodic lines, can afford to neglect what his partners are doing.
Add to all this, the musical dimension of the "Cello Quintet" -- so called because its instrumentation calls for two cellos instead of the conventional two violas. The added cello gives the music a predominantly dark color, and the Quintet in C is indeed a dark work. Schubert was a dying man when he wrote the Quintet, and his sufferings were psychological as well as physical. Listening to the Quintet is a searing and exhilarating experience for both listeners and players.
The standing ovation that greeted the conclusion of the performance honored the work as well as the performance by violinists Pinchas Zukerman and Herbert Greenberg, violist Peter Minkler and cellists Ralph Kirshbaum and Kristin Ostling. From the opening measures, in which the four upper voices sustain a chord from a soft beginning, through a powerful crescendo and descent back to near silence, the performance created a sense of expectation and -- perhaps most importantly -- a sense of destination in this work, perhaps the greatest of the composer's winter journeys.
There were any number of felicities: in the heart-piercing adagio, the seemingly endless tones of the three inner voices and the musical thunderclaps that died away to unresigned silences; in the succeeding scherzo, an opening fanfare, its hairpin turns executed precisely, that brilliantly broke the mood of tragic desolation; and in the final movement, musical thrust that achieved urgency without sacrificing either feeling or eloquence.
The Quintet was presented on the symphonic portion of the concert, perhaps the first time in the orchestra's history that chamber music was performed in lieu of an orchestral work. One thing is certain: No piece of music in this listener's experience has ever had so big an impact on the stage of Meyerhoff Hall.
The program included a fine reading by Zukerman and the BSO of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 and a warm and spontaneous account of the composer's "Arpeggione Sonata" by cellist Kirshbaum and pianist Brian Ganz .
Pub Date: 7/19/97