Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor; Piano Quintet in E flat

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Piano Concerto in A minor; Piano Quintet in E flat
PERFORMER: Maria João Pires (piano), Augustin Dumay, Renaud Capuçon (violin), Gérard Caussé (viola), Jian Wang (cello); CO of Europe/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 463 179-2
Pride of place on this disc goes to the Quintet, in which Pires and her colleagues achieve a stimulating combination of conviction and spontaneity. The result is exhilarating, an infectious freshet of melody that also has considerable depth. Rarely has the first episode of the slow movement seemed so intimate and seductive, and the drama associated with the tumultuous second interlude and its aftermath are breathtakingly conveyed.

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Some of the same approach finds its way into the performance of the Concerto. In particular, the second movement is neither the customary genial amble nor the intensely introspective moment discovered by the young Stephen Kovacevich. Instead, Pires and Abbado offer an unsettled, slightly disturbing, even passionate approach – note those erotically arched cello phrases in the central section – reminding one of Pires’s revelatory way with Chopin nocturnes. The outer movements are less convincing and distinctive. Beside Lipatti’s urgent blend of poetry and cogency, or Perahia’s more mellifluous but equally distilled artistry (which does not prevent him from ending with irresistible verve and momentum) Pires seems a little tame. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays with incantatory eloquence, but tempi are on the cautious side, important structural hinges – such as the beginning of the development section in the first movement, or the introduction to the finale – find Pires under-energised, and her attempts to unearth poetic details in the passagework of the finale can sound rather contrived. These misgivings should not be overemphasised, however: this is a distinguished account of a perpetually enigmatic work. David Breckbill