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Schumann: Piano Quintet, Piano Quartet / Alexander Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet

Schumann / Melnikov / Jerusalem Quartet
Release Date: 05/08/2012 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 902122  
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Alexander Melnikov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Piano Quartet. Piano Quintet Alexander Melnikov (pn); Jerusalem Qrt HARMONIA MUNDI 902122 (54:56)

These performances are notable for the blending of piano and strings into impeccably balanced textures. It’s an approach that’s better suited to the subtle Piano Quartet, a masterwork that owes much to classical models, than to the Piano Quintet. Alexander Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet take a very precise, refined approach to dynamics—well captured by Harmonia Mundi’s fine engineering—and they also Read more understand where the music needs energy and propulsion. The quartet’s lithe, Mendelssohnian scherzo—the musical counterpart to the fantastic Otto Modersohn painting of a ghostly twilight dance ( Ronde d’elfes , 1901) on the CD’s cover—receives a wonderfully airy, scintillating performance. In the slow movement, perhaps wary of sentimentalizing its famous opening solo, cellist Kyril Zlotnikov plays so self-effacingly as to come across as bland. Other cellists such as Bernard Greenhouse, in the classic Beaux Arts Trio recording, have managed to infuse more personality into it, while still communicating its restraint.

In the quintet, a more flamboyant, concerto-like piece than the quartet, Melnikov and company offer a fleet performance that favors a smoothly integrated ensemble sound over strong characterization of individual lines. Melnikov tends to exaggerate the gentle, dreamy character of his solos in the first movement, and his accompaniments are so discreet as to be almost inaudible. More assertiveness, at times, on all the players’ parts, would have added character to the interpretation.

For example, the slow movement, though played with careful differentiation between piano and pianissimo , is a bit matter-of-fact in its pacing and voicing. The tempo alla marcia main theme can sound a little dangerous, like a Grimm’s fairy tale, if the piano’s introductory arpeggio creates a more portentous atmosphere—Melnikov’s is smooth and easygoing—and the viola growls a little. In the Finale, its allegro ma non troppo marking can take on a defiant character if all of the quarter notes are all truly accented and separated, offering some resistance on the way to the main theme’s downbeats. Here, things seem to move too smoothly.

These highly recommendable performances—despite the small criticisms above, they give great pleasure—join many other polished, modern accounts such as Takács/Hamelin and Mandelring/Le Guay that have been praised in these pages. Melnikov and the Jerusalem Quartet embody the virtues of modern chamber-music playing—technical ease and, above all, clarity—but for more personal takes on the music, I am likely to return to Glenn Gould’s account of the quartet with the Juilliard Quartet, and Martha Argerich in the quintet with her Lugano Festival colleagues. Gould manages to assert his pianistic personality with every note that he plays, but still the nature of Schumann’s work comes across. Argerich’s strong temperament inspires her colleagues to a dramatic interpretation that brings the wilder elements of the piece to the fore.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Piano and Strings in E flat major, Op. 44 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Alexander Melnikov (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Quartet for Piano and Strings in E flat major, Op. 47 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Alexander Melnikov (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Jerusalem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 

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