WORKS: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1; Arabeske, Op. 18; Blumenstück, Op. 19
PERFORMER: Bernard d’Ascoli (piano); Schidlof Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 132
1842 was Schumann’s chamber music year – the year of his three string quartets, Piano Quintet and Piano Quartet. Of these five works, the first in the group of string quartets is perhaps the least known. Its opening movement carries out an experiment unique in Schumann: the contrapuntal slow introduction is in the work’s promised key of A minor, but the Allegro itself turns out to be in F major. Since the ecstatically rhapsodic slow movement is also in F, it is left to the scherzo (significantly placed before the Adagio) and finale to establish the Quartet’s putative home key. It is true that there are other works of Schumann that begin, and even end in the ‘wrong’ key (the Davidsbündlertänze actually do both), but nowhere else is the process carried out within a single symphonically conceived movement.
The Schidlof Quartet gives a warm and spacious account which should win this work many new friends. Its performance with Bernard d’Ascoli of the Piano Quintet is highly enjoyable, too, with just the right balance between ebullience and reflective lyricism in the opening movement, and an appropriately high-spirited reading of the finale. Only d’Ascoli’s rather matter-of-fact performances of the Arabeske and Blumenstück – two of Schumann’s most tender miniatures – disappoint; but by then we have had more than our money’s worth. A highly recommended disc, then, even if in the last resort my allegiance to the version of the Op. 44 Quintet by Peter Frankl and the Lindsays, where the weary tread of the slow movement is more vividly conveyed, remains unshaken. Misha Donat