By People Staff
August 18, 1980 12:00 PM

The LaSalle Quartet, with Lynn Harrell, cello

H.L. Mencken, a connoisseur of music no less than of bourbon and political prevarication, once wrote of Schubert, “He did not think of terse, epigrammatic subjects, as Bach did and Beethoven afterward; he thought of complete melodies, the most ravishing ever heard in this world.” Mencken had one word for this quintet, which Schubert completed a few months before he died in 1828 at the age of 31: “Incomparable.” In instrumentation it went against the Viennese custom of the time by using a second cello (to augment the standard quartet) instead of a second viola. In scope it’s as broad as any symphony. Few symphonies, in fact, can rival its contrasts in tempo, melody and mood, which severely test the resources of any ensemble. This rendition by the Cincinnati-based LaSalle Quartet and cellist Harrell (the 31-year-old son of the late American baritone Mack Harrell), can’t match the vigor and emotion of the 1975 recording by the Guarneri Quartet with Leonard Rose. But the LaSalle’s deliberate approach has virtues, intensifying the solemn passages and clarifying Schubert’s ingenious harmonies. What Mencken said of the composer’s Tragic Symphony applies equally to this work: “I defy anyone with ears to listen to it without being moved profoundly.”

Advertisement