Recording: Schumann Op. 41 #3, and Piano Quintet Op. 44

International Record Review
By Nigel Simeone

This Hyperion release celebrates the chamber music composed by Schumann in 1842, the year in which he wrote the three String Quartets, Op. 41, the Piano Quintet, Op. 44 and the Piano Quartet, Op. 47. The Takács Quartet play the third of the String Quartets (in A major) and the Piano Quintet, in which the quartet is joined by Marc-André Hamelin. While Schumann was mot the first composer to write a quintet for piano and strings, his Op. 44 is the earliest to establish itself in the repertoire, with its innovative combination of chamber-music intimacy and symphonic grandeur. The performance here is deeply satisfying.

The Piano Quintet is a work that needs a judicious mix of expressiveness and rhythmic control if it is to come across as powerfully as it should, and the Takács and Hamelin have just the right combination of tensile strength and lyrical ardour. Plenty other recordings offer passion, but a surprising number of them sacrifice rhythmic discipline in the process. With the present performers, the poise and quality of the playing is exceptional throughout--nowhere more so than in the Scherzo, which is most excitingly done, not least because the playing has such discipline as well as energy.

Among modern recordings, the most impressive competition comes from Menahem Pressler with the Emerson Quartet on DG. It is a performance that really soars, and is very similar to the newcomer in terms of timings: both Hyperion and DG versions offer accounts that are brisk without rushing, leaving plenty of space for warmly expressive phrasing where it is needed.

The DG version is coupled with the Piano Quartet, Op. 47, while the Hyperion coupling is the equally appropriate but much less familiary String Quartet Op. 41 No. 3. While Schumann was at his most innovative in the Piano Quintet, his three Op. 41 String Quartets were written after an intensive study of the quartets by his greatest predecessors: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The Takács possess a poetry and fluency that make for very absorbing listening; this is compelling, concentrated quartet playing of very high quality. It makes an interesting contrast with the much praised Zehetmair Quartet version of this work on ECM. That is more impetuous and rugged than the Takács, but I find both approaches very successful in their different ways, and the warmth of the Takács is extremely winning.

There are excellent notes by Misha Donat and both works benefit from wonderfully natural recorded sound. The result is a Schumann disc of great distinction.

© 2018 Takács Quartet