Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44 [29:24]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 [41:08]
Joyce Yang (piano)
Alexander String Quartet
rec. 2-5 April 2013, St Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, California, USA
FOGHORN CLASSICS CD2014 [70:32]
On first listen, I thought, “I really, really like this CD”. Then I listened to the disc three times the first week. Each time, the music rang out in my head for hours or days afterward. Sometimes I stalked the performers online, wondering, “So have they recorded the Dvořák piano quintets too? What about the Fauré?” They haven’t. Then I started tallying up all the Alexander Quartet albums I now desperately want to purchase, and pitying my poor wallet.
All that is a long way of saying that this is an excellent CD. There’s no doubt about it. The Schumann is vibrant, lively, exuberantly cheerful, with a healthy fullness and muscle. Pianist Joyce Yang leads the charge in the exciting scherzo, especially. Brahms’ quintet is played to show the players’ versatility: aggressive and tender and coolly focused in turn, with impeccable judgment. The scherzo, again, simply catches fire.
As for the Alexander String Quartet: up till now I had led a pitifully sheltered, ASQ-free life. My MusicWeb International colleagues have been praising them for years: those links contain phrases like “unfailingly fresh and musically compelling,” “passes my ‘desert island’ test,” and “inspired performances”. My colleague Byzantion says (in the third link) that “The ASQ - who last year celebrated their 30th anniversary - are hard to fault in any regard: their professionalism is immaculate, their ensemble experience huge and telling, their instrument mastery practically faultless.”
To those remarks I have nothing to add. This review is brief because its recommendation is simple. The recording, produced by Judith Sherman, is first-rate; the playing is uniformly first-rate; the artist group portrait is amusing; the need for follow-up albums is high. I do have competing releases for each of these often-recorded works, and you probably do too. To name one for each work: the Jerusalem Quartet with Alexander Melnikov for Schumann, and the Juilliard with Leon Fleisher in Brahms. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you don’t need one more. Just remember: there is always more room on the shelf for excellence.