Schumann: String Quartets Nos 1-3

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Sono Luminus
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1-3
PERFORMER: Ying Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: DSL-92184

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Listening to Schumann’s String Quartets at a single sitting is an instructive experience. He composed all three of them in rapid succession in the summer of 1842, and ideas seem to have spilled over from one work to the next. After its slow introduction, the main body of the A minor First Quartet’s opening movement is actually in F major – the key of Quartet No. 2; while in the outer works of the triptych the finale is interrupted by an episode in archaic style: a musette in No. 1, and a gavotte in No. 3. And everywhere the music is marked by Schumann’s love of syncopations and dislocated bar-lines.

In his booklet notes, the Ying Quartet’s viola player points out that their performances are partly guided by Schumann’s metronome markings. In the opening movement of the F major Quartet No. 2 the marking produces a reading that’s more urgent than the music’s genial nature might imply, but it convincingly reflects its Allegro vivace heading. The helter-skelter Allegro molto vivace of the Third Quartet’s rumbustious finale is very well realised, too, though the identically-inscribed finale of No. 2 is surely too sedate at the prescribed metronome speed. A nice touch in the opening movement of the Third Quartet is the way the players treat the central development section, with its broader harmonic brushstrokes, as an agitato.

These are altogether admirably warm performances, with the musicians’ affection for the music everywhere in evidence. For hi-fi enthusiasts, a Blu-ray disc in uncompressed sound is included as a bonus.

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Misha Donat