ALBUM TITLE: Brahms * Schumann
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor; Schumann: String Quartet No. 1 in A minor
PERFORMER: Pacifica Quartet; Menahem Pressler (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDR 90000 170
Menahem Pressler is now well into his nineties, and the days when he was the leading light of the Beaux Arts Piano Trio are long gone. There have been other pianists who have continued their careers into their old age: Arthur Rubinstein, for instance, was nearly 90 when he finally retired, and his compatriot Mieczysaw Horszowski was still giving memorable concerts at the age of 100. But Horszowski, in particular, chose his late repertoire carefully, tending to steer clear of music that required significant reserves of energy. There are moments in Brahms’s Piano Quintet – the snarling groups of semiquavers near the start of the first movement, for example, or the triumphant C major theme that bursts out early on in the scherzo – that call for a touch more drama and strength than Pressler gives them here, and although there are beautiful moments in his playing his contribution isn’t helped by the slightly recessed piano balance in the recording, and by the closeness of the first violin, in particular.
More of an unqualified success is the Pacifica Quartet’s affectionate account of Schumann’s A minor string quartet, making unashamed use of portamento where appropriate. Particularly fine is the ardour of the slow movement, with its echoes of the Adagio from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The finale’s curiously nostalgic episode in the style of a musette is well handled, too, but it’s a pity that the work’s closing moments are marred by a spurious accelerando followed by a heavy ritardando.