MOZART; SCHUMANN; MAHLER Piano Quartets
The Berlin Piano Quartet offer an unusual line-up of composers, including the only complete movement of Mahler’s teenage Piano Quartet. They are particularly successful here, conveying the fervency of its opening idea without over-emoting (which the Maiskys are wont to do on their live performance at the 2012 Lugano Festival), and they imbue the second chromatically infused idea with a pleasing naturalness that makes the best possible case for Mahler’s slightly clunky writing. He tends to overwork these two motifs but the Berlin subtly vary them and the violin’s mini-cadenza (track 4, from 10'02") is nicely done by Christophe Horák; Daniel Hope is freer with his portamentos, in keeping with a performance that is more overtly emotive, but I find the Berlin’s ‘straighter’ approach persuasive.
Competition hots up in the remaining works – and this is the second Schumann Piano Quartet to have come my way this month (see page 44). G minor always inspired in Mozart music of a particularly personal anguish and the K478 Piano Quartet is no exception. The Berlin face formidable competition from the Lewis/Leopold account, which to my mind is pretty much ideal. In the first movement’s stern opening idea, for instance, Lewis & co phrase it off tersely, which makes its softer-edged reappearance, newly harmonised, all the more striking. The Berlin are gentler from the off, slightly playing down this contrast. But the Berlin’s pianist, Kim Barbier, is very sensitive to Mozart’s sound world, whether accompanying the strings or taking the lead, and the balance between the players speaks of close rapport. If they can’t quite match the apparent simplicity that Lewis & co bring to the sublime slow movement, they bring to the bucolic finale a delightful mix of delicacy and playfulness.
In the Schumann the outer movements have due effervescence. They do sound a touch steady in the Scherzo compared with Sudbin et al – not simply a question of speed but of accentuation too. Nor do they match the finest readings of the slow movement, which is affectionate but sounds a little too respectful: I wanted Bruno Delepelaire to lean into that wondrous tune with a little more passion, as David Finckel and Gautier Capuçon both do in their respective accounts.