This is the first
of two discs that will celebrate Clifford Curzon’s chamber partnership
with the Budapest Quartet. It’s very well filled and contains
two of the finest works of their type.
have to agree with note writer Tully Potter’s assertion that
‘Robert Schumann never wrote anything better than his Piano
Quintet, one of the most perfect creations in Western music’.
This glorious work is so full of life-affirming ebullience and
joy that it takes a pretty rotten performance to ruin it. Curzon
and his partners are certainly alive to the boldness and muscularity
of the first movement, but I have heard performances that capture
a greater sense of sheer fun and brilliance. Curzon is often
referred to by critics (including Potter) as an ‘aristocrat’
of the keyboard. This is certainly true, and it makes certain
areas of this piece more successful than others. I do like their
way with the second movement funeral march and the strongly
delineated lines of the finale, particularly their lead back
to the work’s opening theme, but I would have liked a touch
more abandon in the molto vivace scherzo.
it’s this slightly more serious, or should I say concentrated,
approach that suits the Brahms better, at least to my ears.
For a chamber work, this is a piece of epic proportions, lasting
over 46 minutes. Having said that, it is the most gentle of
the three piano quartets, possibly written, as Potter suggests,
as ‘a lyrical, feminine answer to the dramatic, masculine G
minor’. Whatever the case, there is a lovely warmth to the strings
and a richness to Curzon’s tone that are hard to resist. You
may find a greater unanimity of ensemble is some of today’s
super-charged virtuoso groups, but there is a real feeling here
of spontaneity and depth of expression. They wisely leave out
the first movement exposition repeat, which gives better balance
to the structure. Curzon is on particularly fine form throughout,
revelling in the thundering octaves at the start of the scherzo’s
trio section, and the ensemble as a whole seem very much at
home in the Hungarian accents of the finale.
Library of Congress acoustic is referred to in the sleeve note
as ’boxy’, but the Naxos transfer seems successful, and the
sound quality is very easy to adjust to. There are many outstanding
versions of the Schumann Quintet in the catalogue, both
old (I think of Rubinstein and the Guarneri) and modern (Naxos’s own Jando and the Kodaly, as vivacious
an account as you could wish for). There is less competition
in the Brahms, so if you are an admirer of these artists, you
need not hesitate.