Brahms¥Schumann

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schumann
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms,Schumann
WORKS: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Artemis Quartet; Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 395 1432
Leif Ove Andsnes has shown a willingness to spread his wings beyond the lonely confines of solo piano and concerto repertory, working recently as an outstanding partner to singer Ian Bostridge and violinist Christian Teztlaff. His collaboration with the Artemis Quartet on two of the greatest piano chamber works of the 19th century is no less inspiring, though the astonishing level of technical finesse in such movements as the Scherzo of the Brahms suggests that this has been borne out of experience in the concert hall rather than simply a spontaneous meeting of musical minds in the recording studio such as in the partnerships of Rubinstein and the Guarneri (BMG) or Jandó and the Kodály Quartet (Naxos).

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These interpretations are far more integrated in conception than is the norm. With an almost ideal balance between piano and strings, the variety of articulation in their playing brings a marvellous textural variety to the full-blooded writing in the outer movements of the Brahms. In matters of tempo, however, the performances are perhaps more controversial. While I admire their making the Schumann first movement a true Allegro brillante, their reluctance to linger unduly in the music’s more reflective sections brings an element of breathlessness to the playing. Likewise the surprisingly fast tempo for the Poco sostenuto opening the Brahms Finale threatens to minimise the element of mystery and uncertainty intrinsic to the musical narrative. But despite these caveats, the performances have a sense of drive and excitement. With an excellent, clear recording, they can be confidently recommended as among the finest modern recordings of both works.