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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet in E flat Op.44 (1842) [28:31]
Piano Quartet in E flat Op.47 (1843) [24:46]
Nils Anders Mortensen (piano)
Engegård Quartet
rec. 2018, Sofienberg Church, Oslo, Norway

The combination of piano with string quartet was recognised as a viable ensemble relatively late, no outstanding work of this type appearing until Schumann’s Piano Quintet of 1842. Exceptions are to be found in the arrangements of the Mozart and Beethoven Wind Quintets but Schumann set a precedent followed by Brahms, Dvořák, Franck, Fauré, Elgar and Shostakovich among many. I remember hearing the fine Sacconi Quartet play this in Penrith in 2004 and I had to point out to a member of the audience, querying Schumann being first in this format, that Schubert’s Trout Quintet has a double bass instead of the second violin. The Engegard Quartet have already had releases reviewed in MWI, including Schumann’s three String Quartets, which became a favourite recording for Stuart Sillitoe. On this CD, they are joined by Norwegian pianist Nils Anders Mortensen who has had a fair few discs reviewed positively here. I was delighted to see that Schumann’s charming Piano Quartet is the second work here.

This performance is a triumph from start to finish and I played it several times out of sheer enjoyment. Two points came through. Firstly, the five musicians are as one and seem perfectly attuned. Secondly, the debt Schumann owed to Schubert, particularly in his Piano Trio D929 and the aforementioned Trout Quintet. The first movement is dispatched at about mid speed for most ensembles and immediately immerses us in the romantic idiom with its forceful theme. The slow movement is enchanting and recalls certain aspects of the dark passages in Schubert’s second Piano Trio. The Scherzo is one of Schumann’s greatest achievements and is played with real spirit. The Allegro brings the performance to a sublime finale. I have fine recordings by such as Curzon/Budapest, Pressler/Emerson and Beaux Arts, and two by Martha Argerich and the Wihan. The present performance, superbly recorded joins them.

The coupling, Schumann's fine Piano Quartet, is a work less well known than the Piano Quintet, however it is a very fine piece and means a lot to me. Twenty-five years or so, on a family holiday in Ambleside, I escaped to some master-classes in the Lake District Summer Music Festival. I had the pleasure of hearing the late Christopher Rowland, previously leader of the Fitzwilliam Quartet going through the heavenly Andante Cantabile, clearly a love “poem” from Robert to Clara. I’ve cherished it ever since and again have several loved recordings. The performance here is excellent and the Engegård are particularly fine in the Vivace finale. It’s not a work which discloses all its secrets on first hearing, so do play it several times and you will then wonder why for many it’s so often in the shade.

Two great works from a successful time in the composer’s life; a life that was to end in utter tragedy. I enjoyed the disc from start to finish and it is one of the best chamber recordings that I’ve heard in a long while. There are good notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler.
David R Dunsmore

Quartet members: Arvid Engegård (violin), Alex Robson (violin), Juliet Jopling (viola), Jan Clemens Carlsen (cello)  

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