COMPOSERS: Robert Schumann
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Shumann Piano Quartet & Piano Quintet
WORKS: Piano Quartet; Piano Quintet
PERFORMER: Jerusalem Quartet/Alexander Melnikov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC902122
Alexander Melnikov’s credentials as an outstanding chamber musician have already been demonstrated in his fine recordings of Dvorˇák’s Third and Fourth Trios with Isabelle Faust and Jean-Guihen Queyras. So it’s hardly surprising that his partnership with the Jerusalem Quartet in Schumann should be equally compelling. What makes his playing so remarkable is an ability to achieve an ideal balance with the strings, illuminating Schumann’s seemingly dense part writing. A good example comes at the beginning of the development section of the first movement of the Piano Quintet where Schumann asks the piano to double a solo line from cello, viola and then violin. All too often this passage sounds muddy, but Melnikov blends his tone to match exactly that of the strings. Another remarkable passage is the Un poco largamente section of the second movement of this work: in Melnikov’s hands, the gently oscillating crotchet triplets in the piano never obscure the very different rhythmic patterns that we hear in the strings.
Naturally the Jerusalem Quartet is a hugely responsive partner in this process. The magical non-vibrato opening of the Piano Quartet generates intense expectation for the ensuing Allegro ma non troppo, while the scurrying almost Mendelssohnian string articulation in the Scherzo is matched by Melnikov’s crystal-clear and fleet-of- foot playing. Warm but subtly modulated phrasing characterises the nostalgic string solos in the Adagio cantabile and there’s great exhilaration and exuberance in the Finale. The Quintet offers similar strengths with playing that is deeply felt but never indulgent or mannered. With a recording that offers depth of sound and admirable clarity, Schumann’s two chamber masterpieces are brilliantly served.