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Schumann • Dvorák

COMPOSERS: Schumann; Dvorák
ALBUM TITLE: Schumann • Dvorák
WORKS: Schumann: Piano Quintet, Op. 44; Dvorák: Piano Quintet No. 2, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Jonathan Biss (piano); Elias String Quartet


Jonathan Biss and the Elias Quartet deliver highly assured performances of these two marvellous chamber works. The opening of the Schumann is projected with suitably impetuous energy, and Biss brilliantly negotiates the tricky piano-quaver passagework in the first movement’s development section, balancing a growing sense of unease with exciting forward momentum. Occasionally, however, I find the players’ use of rubato a bit self-conscious. For instance, there seems no logically musical reason for the cello to elongate the first note of the lyrical second subject to such an extent. A similar issue resurfaces in their phrasing of the contrasting major-key idea in the second movement, the tendency to hold back the resolution of a particularly poignant harmonic progression becoming an irritating mannerism.

In general, this warmly recorded performance is most compelling when Schumann explores the extrovert side of his musical personality. The Scherzo’s sequence of ascending and descending scales is particularly exhilarating, as is the suitably rustic articulation of offbeat sforzando semiquavers in the second trio. Yet the interpretation as a whole doesn’t provide as many insights as the remarkable Harmonia Mundi release from Alexander Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet, which remains a clear first choice.

While there are some caveats about the Schumann, the Biss/Elias  partnership produces a wonderful performance of the Dvoπák, conveying not only the freshness of its invention but also probing darker melancholic undercurrents in the Dumka and Finale that are all too often overlooked by other interpreters.


Erik Levi