on 18 May 2012
For all the premeditation of Schumann's career - moving from Lieder to chamber music to orchestral music year after year - there is something essentially fresh about his Piano Quintet and Quartet. It is that immediacy that breathes through this new recording by Alexander Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet. While it's a little too forceful at times, the results are rousing.
The urgency of the Piano Quartet almost threatens to run away itself. But while Melnikov and the quartet rush its gathering unison phrases, there is plenty of excitement on offer. Seeing its pert classicism not as a reactionary position but as a call to arms, the group play with wonderfully full sound, while in the introduction to the first movement and the following Andante, the string tone captures a gracious dying fall. Perhaps the fugal finale needs a little more tethering to its bar lines, but you can't help but relish the thrill.
And from the sharp intake of breath preceding the first chord of the Piano Quintet, you know that this will be an equally exciting performance. The peppy brusqueness of the piano quartet is equally present here. Sometimes, you wish Melnikov would take a leaf out of Martha Argerich's more lyrical book, providing a sob at the end of the line in the second subject (as his string playing colleagues do), but he leaves us in no doubt that this is music with a sense of purpose.
Odd then that the march in the second movement feels rather slack. It is totally out of character in an otherwise taut recording, as both piano and strings anticipate each and every beat. And its lyrical counterpart feels equally underplayed. But, moving on from that disappointment, the scherzo and finale are back on punchy form. While this is not quite the whole Schumann story, it an enjoyable disc nonetheless.