Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C major is one of his most moving works. He composed it the summer before his death, opting for the atypical scoring of two violins, a viola and two cellos. This unusual combination of instruments gives the Quintet quasi-orchestral sonorities, while the deep timbre of the two cellos accentuates its gravitas. Dark and dramatic as the Quintet is, certain movements are also full of exuberance and surprise. Including his surprisingly carefree Finale where, according to the musicologist Marcel Schneider, “it’s as if Schubert were resurfacing after sharing the depths of his soul with us.” The score remains unforgettable for its sublimely sober Adagio.
Composed in the aftermath of the Second World War, Shostakovich’s substantial String Quartet No. 3 is also a dramatic and contrasting work over which irony and gaiety rub shoulders with tragedy. The expressive intensity of the Adagio, with its vast passacaglia, brings to mind late Beethoven. Shostakovich considered it one of his best compositions.