Schumann: String Quartet No. 3 in A, Op. 41

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: String Quartet No. 3 in A, Op. 41; Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano); Takács Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67631

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The market isn’t exactly flooded with great recordings of Schumann’s string quartets, so any offering from such an outstanding ensemble as the Takács has to be at least interesting.
 
As expected, the Takács account of the A major is more than that. It has a wealth of positive points, especially fabulous textural clarity (enhanced by the recording), revealing just how imaginative resourceful Schumann’s writing is, and a special feeling for the troubled, nervous strands in his musical personality – witness the first movement’s restless second theme, and still more the slow movement’s edgy middle section.
 
In the end, though, I feel they overdo the nervous accentuation at the expense of the lyricism: Schumann’s manic Florestan mode dominates, at the expense of fragile, reflective Eusebius. The Zehetmair Quartet on ECM still offer the most rounded and ultimately moving portrait of this lovely but complex work. 
 
The Piano Quintet is slightly more successful – notably the slow movement where the lyricism/unease balance is well judged, and feeling for Schumann’s uniquely lateral symphonic thinking is way above average. It’s always refreshing to get away from conventional bland sweetness.
 
Elsewhere though it is a bit of a rough ride (which the recording also underlines), with more of those barbed accents and nervy rapid crescendo-diminuendo patterns from the Quartet.
 
Above all it’s a performance with plenty of energy but not a lot tenderness, poetry or joy – and surely those are just as essential to Schumann. I’d love to be able to recommend something over the familiar old Beaux Arts Trio version, but it gets so many things right – and still sounds warm and clear. Stephen Johnson