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Schumann: String Quartets 1-3

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Audio CD, December 12, 2006
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  • Schumann: String Quartets 1-3
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Following the so-called 'Year of Song' during which Schumann poured out almost 140 of his finest Lieder, the newly-married composer turned to weightier forms. In 1842 Schumann composed the Three String Quartets Op. 41, the Piano Quintet Op. 44 and the Pi

Review

"one of the very finest chamber music recordings of the year" -- American Record Guide (September/October 2007)
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Product Details

  • Performer: Ralph Evans, Efim Boico, Yuri Gandelsman, Wolfgang Laufer
  • Orchestra: Fine Arts Quartet
  • Composer: Robert Schumann
  • Audio CD (December 12, 2006)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B000JVSVF6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,765 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 22, 2006
Format: Audio CD
It has been extremely unusual until very recently for all three Schumann Quartets, his Op. 41, to be recorded on one CD. Usually we would get Nos. 2 & 3, and although there have been a few other CDs that contained all three -- including those of the Quatuor Ysaye and Eroica Quartets -- this is, I believe, the best of the lot. And at budget price, too! Quatuor Ysaye, in my opinion, gives a rather flaccid account of No. 1 and has some intonational problems. The Eroica Quartet plays on gut strings, and although that doesn't necessarily disqualify them -- I'd love to hear Quatuor Mosaïques play these works -- I was somehow not terribly pleased with their accounts even though others have raved about them; I think my main objection was the sound of the cello, which seemed rather nasal.

The Fine Arts Quartet has been in residence at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee for years and have been concertizing for fifty years -- three of the members have been in the quartet for twenty-five years -- and have made some outstanding recordings over that time; I particularly like their set of the Mozart quintets. (They are not, by the way, to be confused with the similarly named and similarly distinguished Pro Arte Quartet, long resident at the sister campus of the University of Wisconsin - Madison.) They are a rock-solid non-flashy but very musical quartet who have given us satisfying performances year after year.

I was won over by their spirited manner with the scherzo of the First Quartet, with its galloping rhythms and daredevil tempo; the same comment applies to the quartet's finale.
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(1) Quartet in A minor.

ANDANTE. This piece starts calmly. At 2 minutes, there is a brief flourish, like a musical clearing of the throat, followed by more calmness. At 3 minutes, things speed up, and we are treated to a lively skipping motif. The lively skipping motif goes like this, "CHA! Cha-chung!" As we listen to this piece, this motif sounds like a child skipping along the sidewalk.

SCHERZO. This piece features a jittery motif, where the violins play, "Da-da-dum," as if beginning (but not following through with) the Lone Ranger Theme. The jittery Lone Ranger Theme is repeated at various intervals, and sandwiched in between the jitters, comes a weird little tune. The weird little tune sounds like a normal tune played backwards. (Baby boomers will be familiar with the recordings of the Beatles that contain drum sounds played backwards, and other musical sounds played backwards.)

ADAGIO. This is a calm piece featuring, at the beginning, pizzicato plucks. This piece doesn't have much of a discernable tune. Adagio is suitable for granny knitting by the fireplace.

PRESTO. This piece has a 3-note trumpeting motif that is similar to that of the Finale of Schumann's Piano Quartet in E flat major. The fast-moving PRESTO changes moods, like a railroad train passing villages, going over bridges, through tunnels, or rushing past a train moving in the opposite direction. PRESTO concludes with a hushed church hymn, which is interrupted by the 3-note trumpeting motif.

(2) Quartet in F major.

ALLEGRO VIVACE. This is a calm piece suitable for company at dinner. At 2 and a half minutes, the piece ascends, using a stress-inducing melody. Then, the calm dinner-company tune returns.
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This is one of the few CD's that have all 3 quartets on one CD and happily it is also one of the best. The playing is warm and very clear and add to this the budget price of Naxos , this is an unmissable treat.
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Greatly though I love Schumann, I keep finding his string quartets worthy but just slightly dull, so I have to ask myself why. They don't lack for melody for instance, there is plenty of soul and depth in the expression as well, and I would not even be worried to find Schumann's well known shortcomings, namely a rather colourless instrumental tone and some lack of fluency in the construction. Schumann outdoes his great contemporary Mendelssohn when it comes to profundity, but I only have to spend a few minutes in the company of any of Mendelssohn's quartets to appreciate how much more adept he was. Still - I don't find Mendelssohnian mastery in Schumann's piano quartet or piano quintet either, but they thrill me uncommonly, and the difference is staring me in the face. In the string quartets Schumann is pining for his beloved piano.

In that I case I guess that the rating we give to performances of the quartets depends how we view the music itself. If you do not share my reservations about it then you will want renditions that are faithful to the special qualities of the works, and those are many. Even from my own point of view, it is always a slightly risky business to ask for accounts of any music that `sell' it by the way of well-intentioned liberties. What you will get here from the Fine Arts Quartet is AAA fidelity. This is echt Schumann. The depth is there, the periodical quirkiness is there in the scherzos, the tempi seem to me admirably judged, the technique is immaculate, and the recording (vintage 2006) is of the quality we expect in the third millennium.

There is a slightly average liner note, but it is helpful in providing the biographical background to the works. What is well above average is the bargain offered by Naxos.
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