Schumann Chamber Works

Author: 
Joan Chissell

Schumann Chamber Works

  • Quintet for Piano and Strings
  • String Quartet No. 1

After the arrestingly imaginative performance of the Quintet recently given by Martha Argerich and friends, this new one comes as a disappointment – primarily for its first movement. Whereas Schumann’s marking is minim=108, these players plunge in at a recklessly snatched minim=144. Despite occasional overcosseting of this and that, they reach the end – with all too little affection or finesse en route – in just over seven-and-a-half minutes. Timekeepers please note that Argerich (never a one to dawdle) and her colleagues so rewardingly allow themselves a whole minute-and-a-half longer. The funeral march-inspired Un poco largamente is slower than is frequently heard (minim=46 rather than the requested 66). But here the players do manage to create an atmospheric hollowness: even the contrasting major key episodes bring only an eerily disembodied assuagement. The Scherzo lacks the light-fingered vitality (notably in keyboard scales) which characterizes the EMI issue. And despite the newcomers’ sensibly timed response to the exhilaration of the finale, I still preferred the rhythmic stability as well as virility underpinning the more varied as well as clearer-textured vistas opened up on the EMI version.
Without the pianist (who in this context is, I think, miscast), I’d hoped to be able to lay down my critical pen in the A minor String Quartet. But after a sympathetic slow introduction, the opening movement’s switch to Allegro heralds an account of all three faster movements that I found wholly un-Schumannesque in its highly-strung, far too sharply accented, short-breathed, would-be excitement – so often at odds with the music’s natural flow. Even their search for ‘profundity’ in the overslow Adagio is achieved at the expense of Schumann’s inborn lyricism (and incidentally with some overheavy accompanying figuration en route). Of course it goes without saying that the Hagens’ individual brilliance and corporate accomplishment is never for a moment in doubt. But close, somewhat coarse-grained tonal reproduction compels me to advise prospective purchasers to look elsewhere – notably to the Alberni and Vogler Quartets.'

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