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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quartet in C minor (1829) [26:58]
Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 (1842) [32:25]
Trio Parnassus: (Yamei Yu (violin); Michael Groß (cello); Chia Chou (piano); Hariolf Schlichtig (viola))
rec. 7-9 December, 2005, Fürstliche Reitbahn, Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM GOLD MDG 903 1414-6 [59:37]


This Super Audio compact disc from the independent German label Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm label (MDG) features the prolific Trio Parnassus in their thirtieth release for the label. Augmented by violist Hariolf Schlichtig, Parnassus perform not only Robert Schumann’s renowned Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 from 1842, but also his youthful C minor Piano Quartet, a hidden gem composed thirteen years earlier. Until recently the C minor score was thought to be unplayable, however, this is the first recording in Joachim Draheim’s new, and as yet unpublished, edition.    
 
The Piano Quartet in C minor was an early work by the highly gifted but inexperienced teenage Schumann. The autograph score, which did not come into the possession of the Bonn University Library until 1974, was found to be full of errors and gaps. At certain points the score is unclear owing to innumerable mistakes such as wrong notes, missing accidentals, vague rhythms, incomplete and inaccurate articulation and dynamics. A whole page which contained the close of the first movement is missing from the score, as are string parts from the last 18 bars of the trio and most of the left-hand piano part. Wolfgang Boetticher’s edition published by Heinrichshofen of Wilhelmshaven in 1979 and presented in its mutilated form proved to be unpopular, unsatisfactory and consequently was largely ignored.
 
Fortunately the C minor Quartet has now been refurbished and rendered playable on the basis of additions and corrections undertaken by musicologist Dr. Joachim Draheim in close collaboration with the Trio Parnassus. The C minor Piano Quartet was finally given its first performance in Draheim’s edition by the Trio Parnassus in Stuttgart in 2005. Schumann’s fledgling score, full of youthful impetuosity and imperfections, is a stroke of genius and its richness of invention will surprise and provide considerable rewards.
 
The first movement marked allegro molto affettuoso is in sonata form and the menuetto: presto is a virtuosic canon scherzo in Beethovenian style. Significantly Schumann wrote in his diary that here in the trio of the scherzo he felt that a Romantic spirit, different from his old music, opened itself to him and a new poetic life seemed to reveal itself. The slow movement andante, introduced with a remarkable viola solo, has an orchestral fullness that threatens to go beyond the realms of chamber music. The concluding movement rondo is a rhythmically succinct, demonic perpetuum mobile, containing some brighter episodes.
 
The great energising force behind Schumann’s mature music was his love for Clara Wieck. After the couple had married in 1841 he produced his first two Symphonies, an Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52 and the first movement of his celebrated Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 in less than twelve months. The following year Schumann fell briefly silent. Clara was away on a concert tour to Denmark and throughout the spring he stayed behind in Leipzig and drowned his melancholy in “beer and champagne” and studied the scores of Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. As soon as Clara returned his creativity boiled over anew; in seven weeks in June and July 1842 he completed his three String Quartets, Op.41; he wrote his celebrated Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op.44 in 19 days in September and October; and on 24 October began his Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op.47, completing it a month later.

It is not surprising that the E flat Piano Quartet turned out as it did, composed under the inspiration of Schumann’s feelings for Clara and under the discipline of his recent study of the classical masters. The E flat Piano Quartet is less expansive, less flamboyant than the better-known Piano Quintet, but the score belongs in the same aristocratic class and displays a special effort by this essentially epigrammatic composer to grasp classical structure.
 
The opening movement, marked sostenuto assai – allegro ma non troppo, is spaciously conceived and is marked by powerful climaxes. A Mendelssohnian scherzo: molto vivace derives a great deal of charm from a recurrent staccato phrase used to link each section. The andante with its romantic main theme is simply a love-song. The instruments take turns to sing and embellish the sweet, heartfelt melody, and at the centre of the movement withdraw into a warm and intimate passage of Beethovenian nobility and pathos. Borne on by the full flood of his inspiration and conceived to flow beautifully the finale: vivace is richly figured and counterpointed.
 
Named after Mount Parnassus near Delphi, the seat of the Muses in Classical Greece, the Trio Parnassus was founded in 1982 by cellist Michael Groß. The remaining ensemble members are violinist Yamei Yu and pianist Chia Chou who are joined on this release by violist Hariolf Schlichtig. Although Michael Groß often uses a baroque cello, the players all use modern strings and bows, avoiding the period performance practice that has become so fashionable today. Groß views that, “The steel strings of a string instrument and the tonal capacity of a grand piano require a completely different sense of sound than gut strings or a Hammerklavier.” With this blend of the historical and the modern Trio Parnassus has developed an unmistakable sound of their own.
 
On this MDG release the Trio Parnassus wholeheartedly embrace the carefree and buoyant mood of Schumann’s music. They demonstrate fine playing that effectively blends vitality and control together with a high intelligence. Their quality is at once evident in the opening movement of the E flat major Quartet which they realise with intelligent sensitivity. The Trio provide a lively spring to their step in both scherzos with interpretations that offer apt spontaneity. Parnassus play each of the slow movements gently and reflectively with a special mellowness. I especially enjoyed their buoyant and irresistible playing of the closing movement of the E flat major score which is beautifully paced and coloured. 
 
The booklet notes by musicologist Joachim Draheim, which are translated from the German, are helpful and reasonably interesting. I found the sound quality to be well balanced and bright and clear.   
    
Benchmark status is rightly awarded to the account of the Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47 from the Beaux Arts Trio and violist Samuel Rhodes on a generous Philips Duo 456 323-2. C/w Piano Quintet, Op. 44; Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 63; Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 80 & Piano Trio No. 3, Op. 110. This evergreen analogue account from Beaux Arts was recorded at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1975 and is distinguished for its refined musicianship and security of ensemble. 
 
These enjoyable performances of Schumann’s two Piano Quartets from the Trio Parnassus will fit comfortably on my record shelves. Schumann’s fledgling C minor Piano Quartet proves to be an attractive and worthy addition to the chamber répertoire.
 
Michael Cookson
 

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