WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1; String Quartet in A, Op. 41/3
PERFORMER: Zehetmair Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 472 169-2
The longer one lives with Schumann, the more surprises he springs. His string quartets, still underplayed, are every bit as potent as his songs, piano music and orchestral works. And, although the Eroica Quartet (Harmonia Mundi) made us sit up and take notice of Schumann’s Op. 41 as a set, it is this new recording of the First and Third Quartets which really dares to recreate the shock of the new.
The ethereal canon of the slow introduction to the First Quartet typifies the exquisite poise, focus and blend of voices in this performance, closely yet spaciously recorded. And it tingles with that hypersensitivity to the composer which Thomas Zehetmair himself has consistently shown in his championing of the Violin Concerto. A fiery, folksy scherzo, haunted by countless shades of colour and light, pays obvious tribute to Mendelssohn, the quartets’ dedicatee. And the final Presto here risks daring extremes of attack and energy in its lacerating interplay of motifs and its diamond-cut intonation.
The Zehetmair Quartet above all perfectly fuses Schumann’s Classical rigour with a fitful, impulsive animation of dynamics and metre – nowhere more so than in the second movement of the Third Quartet. This sense of emotional instability articulated with superb technical assurance goes to the very heart of the composer, and is recreated here with outstanding mastery.