Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44; Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44; Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47
PERFORMER: Michelangelo Piano Quartet; Antonio De Secondi (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0698
These two works were composed in rapid succession towards the tail-end of Schumann’s chamber music year of 1842. Of the two, it’s the extrovert and brilliant Quintet that has always been the more popular by far; but the Quartet is arguably more original, and its musical rewards are certainly no less. The finales of both works show Schumann enjoying the fruits of the contrapuntal studies he had undertaken earlier that same year.

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This new recording claims to be the first on period instruments, and the 1830 Viennese piano has admirable lightness and clarity – even if some listeners may be disturbed by the thud of its sustaining pedal. Alas, the performances themselves are rather four-square and plodding, with insufficient shading and shaping, and a general tendency to unpick the music’s seams. Some of the more intimate moments are sensitively handled (though it’s difficult to know why at the start of the slow movement in the Op. 47 Quartet the viola plays the single-note accompaniment more loudly than the cello’s expressive theme), but elsewhere one badly misses a sense of spontaneity and enjoyment.

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That quality is present in abundance in what is still my favourite version of the Quintet, with Peter Frankl and The Lindsays, though ASV’s recording is beginning to show its age. Their performance is generously paired with the Brahms F minor Quintet, but for the two Schumann works as coupled as here, Menahem Pressler and the Emerson Quartet offer a warm and sympathetic alternative. Misha Donat