Schumann, Elgar: Piano Quintets / Vogt, Tetzlaff, Weithaas, Szulc, Masurenko,Et Al

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SCHUMANN Piano Quintet in E?. 1 ELGAR Piano Quintet in a 2 Christian Tetzlaff (vn); 1 Antje Weithaas (vn); 2 Rados?aw Szulc (vn); 1,2 Tatiana Masurenko (va); 1,2 Gustav Rivinius (vc); 1 Claudio Bohórquez (vc); 2 Lars Vogt (pn) 1,2 CAVI-MUSIC 8553127 (65: 52) Live: Heimbach 5/21/2007; 1 5/24/2007 2

Live recordings emanating from international music festivals are becoming more and more common. A 2005 performance of Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 from this same venue—the Spannungen Chamber Music Festival—with some of the same players—Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt—made my 2007 Want List. As always with such events, however, the heat of the moment, not to mention the heat of the day, can be an unpredictable wild card. Professional musicians of this caliber rarely perform poorly, but coming together this way, ad hoc, for one-off performances does not always catch them at their best.

Because it is arguably his greatest chamber work, and surely his most popular, Schumann’s E?-Major Piano Quintet offers half-a-hundred current listings to choose from. Were that not the case, I would almost certainly welcome this newcomer more enthusiastically. The short and sweet of it is that this is a performance that sounds as if it could have done with a bit more rehearsal. It lacks the unanimity one hears from an ensemble that has had time to take full measure of the piece, and to come to agreement on details of phrasing and articulation. There are no noticeable flubs or missed cues, but rather, missed opportunities to engage in consistent musical conversation. The overall impression I’m left with is of a group of professional, highly proficient players, each of whom is playing a slightly different version of the score. Among my personal top choices are an oldie but a goodie, the Guarneri Quartet with Artur Rubinstein on RCA, and a more recent release on ASV with the Schubert Ensemble of London, which I gave an unqualified recommendation to in 30:3.

For those familiar with Elgar mainly through his cello and violin concertos, symphonies, and possibly his great oratorio The Dream of Gerontius , his 1918 A-Minor Piano Quintet may sound at first somewhat atypical of the composer. True to the introspective and melancholy mood of the works he was writing at the time—which culminated in the cello concerto—the Quintet also speaks with a voice made insensate by desolation, but it also exhibits manic-like swings between barely repressed rage and palm-court sentimentality. The sudden appearance out of nowhere of the first movement’s second theme at 3:15 comes as a flashback to Brahms. The entire Quintet, in fact, has a very Brahmsian cast to it; yet the piece is all about loss and bereavement, bereft of Brahms’s carnal longings for a soul mate. The closest Elgar gets to capturing Brahms’s doom-laden tread to annihilation comes in the Quintet’s final pages, but the piece ends on a major chord, averting the cadential catastrophe.

If the E?-Major Piano Quintet is Schumann’s greatest contribution to chamber music literature, the A-Minor Piano Quintet may be Elgar’s, though his E-Minor String Quartet and E-Minor Violin Sonata, all products of the same period, are on about equal footing. There are at present about a dozen recordings of Elgar’s Quintet listed, but none that I would rate any higher than this CAvi-music entry. There is no sense of the performance being under-rehearsed, as there was in the Schumann. The playing is focused and intense, and the reading is a searing one. This would definitely be my current recommendation for the Elgar, a magnificent and moving work that will only grow on you with repeated hearings.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: AVI 8553127

  • UPC: 4260085531271

  • Label: Cavi

  • Composer: Robert Schumann, Sir Edward Elgar

  • Performer: Antje Weithaas, Christian Tetzlaff, Claudio Bohorquez, Gustav Rivinius, Lars Vogt, Radoslaw Szulc, Tatiana Masurenko, Tatjana Masurenko