Intermezzo: Works by Schumann, Reimann & Mendelssohn

Anna Lucia Richter; Schumann Quartet (Berlin Classics)

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Intermezzo
Schumann: String Quartet No. 1; 6 songs, Op. 107 (arr. Reimann); Reimann: Adagio zum Gedenken an Robert Schumann; Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E flat (1823)
Anna Lucia Richter (soprano); Schumann Quartet
Berlin Classics 0301058BC 64:24 mins

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There’s more connection between the German composers Aribert Reimann and Robert Schumann than might initially meet the eye or ear: apparently Reimann is a descendent of the doctor who treated Schumann in the Endenich asylum and he inherited the great man’s medical records. Here the Schumann Quartet (three of whom are brothers themselves named Schumann) places its namesake’s String Quartet No. 1 alongside the Reimann Adagio written in tribute to him, an arrangement by Reimann of Schumann’s Op. 107 songs and an early string quartet by Schumann’s friend Felix Mendelssohn, composed aged 14. The songs, with the stratospheric, laser-beam soprano of Anna Lucia Richter, fare particularly well. Reimann’s textures are transparent, the playing clear and precise and the blend of the old and new achieves a fine balance. The Adagio in memory of Schumann was written in 2006, for the 150th anniversary of Schumann’s death, and is based on two unfinished chorales by the composer: Reimann transforms them into a concentrated and often agonised meditation in late-modernist musical language. The Schumann Quartet plays it with enormous commitment.

In the two formal quartets there’s no mistaking the passion and energy of the four players, yet the Schumann work does sometimes seem a little over pressed: the performance’s intensity, plumbing the darkest depths of the piece, could use more contrasts to increase its effectiveness; it can feel unrelenting and results occasionally in unnecessarily aggressive and scratchy playing, notably in the scherzo. The genial, sun-filled Mendelssohn, however, is a delight from start to finish.

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Jessica Duchen