Schumann: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1; String Quartet in F, Op. 41/2; String Quartet in A, Op. 41/3

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1; String Quartet in F, Op. 41/2; String Quartet in A, Op. 41/3
PERFORMER: Eroica Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907270
The Eroica Quartet’s recent Beethoven disc for Harmonia Mundi (comprising Quartets Opp. 74, 95 and 135) was certainly an impressive mission statement, defining chosen stylistic credentials, without actually breaking too much new ground within the music itself. Now, however, in Schumann’s Op. 41 trilogy, the Eroica’s idiomatic clarity and cogency sear through long-standing vagueness and imprecision in the realisation of these works on disc.

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Its traversal instantly commands attention since periodist accounts of the Schumann quartets are without precedent in the catalogue. Once spared the familiar over-gilded vibrato, and with proper regard given to Schumann’s dynamic indications, the elusive, often neurotic undercurrents of these works (written in just two weeks during June 1842) are conveyed more palpably than ever before.

And unlike the incomplete (but impressive) recent survey from the St Lawrence Quartet, the Eroica has set down the entire Op. 41 triptych, plus Schumann’s first thoughts on Quartet No. 2. Interestingly, as the manuscripts (preserved at the Heine Institute in Düsseldorf) reveal, the Second Quartet originally began with a passage (marked Stringendo) deleted prior to publication, but subsequently added to Op. 41/1, at the start of its first movement development. Harmonia Mundi’s helpful tracking layout enables the listener to sample each alternative version.

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Finally, the Eroica Quartet’s heroic, questing, unsettling and magnificent performances could well occasion a general reappraisal of this music, but this superb issue now rightfully claims the St Lawrence Quartet’s earlier benchmark status. Exemplary recorded sound also compliments these freshly-minted and revelatory accounts.