The Many Faces of Schumann's Quartets

The Gringolts Quartet add a new dimension to familiar material.

Composer: Schumann
Repertoire: String Quartets nos 1-3

Artist: Piano Quintet, Gringolts Quartet, Peter Laul (pf)
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Chamber

Label: Onyx 4081

The Music: Schumann’s three string quartets and Piano Quintet all date from an extraordinarily intense year in 1842 when the composer, luckily for us, devoted himself mainly to chamber music and produced a torrent of masterpieces. The string quartets, somewhat neglected in the past, are enjoying a major comeback; the exuberant and inspired Piano Quintet remains a perennial favourite.

The Performance: Led by the incisive Ilya Gringolts, much celebrated as a soloist, the Gringolts Quartet puts Schumann’s mercurial yet troubled psyche under an intense spotlight. They use every means at their disposal to draw out more disturbing elements of the quartets: the beginning of no.1 emerges as sombre as medieval plainsong, silences are full of unspoken menace and at times the drive of the music is permitted to slow, as if running out of steam. It’s deconstructive to some degree, perhaps excessively so. But the more joyous moments are undimmed, with the Piano Quintet going great guns and Gringolts’s violin-playing dancing through enchantingly nuanced passagework in the finale of the Quartet no.2.

The Verdict: Original, personal and beautifully played, these performances prove that there are as many facets to Schumann’s quartets as there are ensembles to play them. A different and fascinating take.

Want More? Gringolts and Laul have together recorded the Schumann sonatas for violin and piano (Onyx, 4035) – complex, intriguing pieces that reward exploration.