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Robert Schumann
String Quartet in A major, Op. 41 No. 3
Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44 
Marc-André Hamelin, piano; Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola), András Fejér (cello))?
CD No.: HYPERION CDA67631
Review By Wayne Donnelly

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  What a wonderful treat this release is for lovers of Romantic chamber music! The Piano Quintet is Schumann's greatest chamber work, and one of the finest examples of this genre in the entire repertoire. Its potent combination of dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty has never been more effectively realized than in this marvelous collaboration between Marc-Andre Hamelin and the Takacs Quartet. Hamelin's early reputation was built primarily with 20th-Century music. But recently he has been stretching out — e.g., a wonderful set of Haydn piano sonatas — and on present evidence he has  a sure command of the mid-19th-Century Romantic idiom as well.  This repertoire has always been in the wheelhouse of the Takacs, whose warm, expressive playing is ideal for this music. These artists' collaboration in the Quintet sounds as if they had been playing together forever, so naturally convincing is their command of tempi and phrasing.

For decades my favorite recording of the Quintet has been by Rudolf Serkin with the Budapest, a fiery, highly dramatic reading that seems almost symphonic in scale. A rehearing of that performance confirms that it remains as potent as ever. This new recording, by turns gentle and assertive, and more technically proficient, reveals dimensions of lyricism and sheer beauty that have not been quite equaled by any previous version I can recall.

Schumann's string quartets are not widely considered to be among his most successful compositions. Structurally they are somewhat diffuse, but like anything from this composer they are full of lovely tunes. I am very fond of the recordings by the Eroica Quartet on harmonia mundi, who take a traditionally romantic view not unlike that of the Takacs, and very different from the high-powered, propulsive style more characteristic of ensembles such as the Juilliard and Emerson Quartets. but I think that the Takacs noses out the Eroica, making the best case I have ever heard for this piece.

This recording was made in St. George's Church in Bristol, and the warm, reverberant (but not too much so) acoustic is the perfect setting for these performances. No details are lost, and the dynamic balance of all the players is beautifully captured. We have here an early candidate for a 2010 Blue Note Music Award.

 

 

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