SCHUMANN Quartet BRAHMS Quintet
There’s no lack of personalities on display here, but unlike the recent Trout Quintet, indubitably led by Anne-Sophie Mutter (DG, 12/17), here we have a band of equals. As you might expect if you’ve encountered Yevgeny Sudbin’s life-enhancingly bonkers Scarlatti sonatas, there’s plenty of buoyancy to be found in the Allegro section of the first movement of the Schumann. While some favour a more emotionally ambiguous approach to the Sostenuto introduction, here the shadows are largely banished, in keeping with their sunny view of the movement as a whole. The players are thrillingly daring in the Scherzo, taken at a breakneck tempo with fizzing accents, but though you suspect that Sudbin is the ringleader here, there’s plenty of give and take within the group, and the string pizzicatos come through the texture well.
You might find more sheerly beautiful accounts of the cello’s glorious melody in the slow movement (from Gautier Capuçon with Argerich, for instance) but I like their sense of solemnity, and when the violin takes over the melody the contributions from the other strings are nicely audible. The finale is another highlight and goes with a real swing. In fact, some might find it too breathless, in which case Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet might be more to your taste, never sounding rushed and offering some quiet playing of the utmost finesse. But it’s difficult to resist a reading that offers such optimism as it drives full-pelt towards the double bar line.
It is in the Brahms F minor Quintet that I have some reservations. Subdin et al seem intent on proving the composer can sound as light and airy as the next man – which of course he can – but there are points where the playing could have been more rapt: for instance the passage from 6'35" (track 5), where the Artemis and Andsnes allow us to pause and enjoy the glories of Brahms’s sound world. In the second movement, too, there’s an insouciance which doesn’t perhaps fully convey the depths of Brahms’s muse.
Some performers seem to have in mind the sound of a firing squad when playing the Scherzo, but not here, in this thrillingly lithe account, in which accents are strong but not overbearing. Hough and the Takács are a tad steadier here, which might initially seem less thrilling, but Brahms’s quiet writing is lustrous indeed. And again, if I missed the intensity that some find in the introduction to the finale, Sudbin and his colleagues positively dance their way through the remainder of the piece.