It was with the encouragement of his friend
Felix Mendelssohn that Schumann turned his creative attention
to chamber music. Until the end of 1840 his entire output,
though altogether splendid in quality, had comprised only
miniatures. These piano pieces and songs were profound and
searching, certainly, but of course there was little development
on the larger scale. During 1841 this mould was broken with
the creation of several orchestral works, while the following
year he wrote a substantial quantity of chamber music, a reflection
of his preference for concentrating on particular types of
composition at different periods of his life. The Piano Quintet
and Piano Quartet are both products of this ‘chamber music
year’ of 1842.
Of the Quintet Schumann said: ‘The music
seemed to please players and listeners alike.' It is not hard
to understand why. For example, the first movement is a magnificent
example of the surging romanticism of which Schumann was a
master. The players of the Schubert Ensemble capture this
spirit through their excellent playing and their collective
response, though there is yet greater intensity from Peter
Frankl and the Lindsay Quartet (also on ASV: CD DCA 728).
However, this beautifully shaped performance by the Schubert
Ensemble is a different interpretation, and in most respects
has equal merit. Throughout the piece they achieve a highly
effective balance between lyrical flow and rhythmic thrust.
In the second movement, entitled In modo
d'una marcia, the funereal tread of the accompanying rhythm
is particularly potent and atmospheric. Into this context
the consoling second theme is sensitively judged, and this
in turn enhances the effect made by contrast made by the wild
and furious section within what is otherwise a serene movement.
In the Scherzo the players skilfully point
up Schumann’s contrasted accents, while the two contrasting
trios are effectively characterised. On the other hand the
finale has a real sense of momentum, with the tempo sensitively
judged so that points of detail can emerge.
The Piano Quartet also benefits
from the clear and natural ASV recording in the sympathetic
acoustic of Potton Hall, a venue favoured by many companies
Like the Quintet, this work has
an ardour and intensity of feeling that brings out Schumann’s
creative personality to the full. These features are encouraged
by the beautifully judged tempi and phrasing of the Schubert
Ensemble. If the flame does not burn quite as brightly in
this piece, it is still a finely crafted composition, and
it receives a sensitive and sympathetic recording.
The second movement, a fast Scherzo,
is a great challenge to the players’ ability to keep together
and create an incisive rhythmic activity, and the challenge
is met most successfully. The slow movement has a beautiful
flowing line, whereas the finale is taken at the sprightly
Vivace tempo Schumann demands.
The Schubert Ensemble is that
rarity, a chamber music grouping of strings and piano who
play regularly together, rather than just occasionally. And