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Schumann: Chamber Works / Gringolts Quartet (5 CDs)

Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Onyx   Catalog #: 4097   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Peter LaulIlya GringoltsDmitry Kouzov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gringolts String Quartet
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

In 1998, Ilya Gringolts won the Premio Paganini international violin competition - in fact winning two prizes, for the youngest ever competitor and for the best interpretation of Paganini's Caprices. He hasn't looked back since, with a complete Beethoven sonata cycle at Verbier in 2008, a premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Violin Sonata, performances at the Proms and the Wigmore Hall and awards for his Taneyev recordings on Hyperion and the Beethoven Triple Concerto with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra for DG. Gringolts also made a series of highly praised Schumann chamber music recordings for Onyx, joined by his eponymous quartet, pianist Peter Laul and cellist Dmitry Kouzov. This boxed set reissue represents both a Read more great value and music-making of the highest caliber.

Reviews of the original recordings that make up this set:

Quartets, Quintet
The three string quartets, Op. 41, of Robert Schumann date from the middle of 1842, the same period when he also composed the Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, so their inclusion together in this double-disc album from Onyx is appropriate, if slightly curious. While the Piano Quintet is among the most popular pieces in the chamber repertoire, the string quartets have languished in a state of comparative neglect and are relatively under-represented in the catalog. The shadow of Beethoven loomed large over many composers in the 19th century, and the example of his extraordinary late string quartets made successors appear lacking by comparison; this is the most likely explanation for the weak standing of Schumann's Op. 41, and why the Piano Quintet escaped invidious comparisons. Yet these clear-eyed and thoughtful performances by the Gringolts Quartet demonstrate that Schumann's abilities in the string quartet genre were considerable, and they show his careful balancing of the parts and bring out the motivic coherence he derived from Beethoven. The Gringolts are absolutely secure in playing these works, but there is a noticeable burst of energy and enthusiasm that they bring to the Piano Quintet, which is shared by pianist Peter Laul. Onyx provides fairly focused recording of the strings, but the piano recedes into the background, perhaps because of the microphone's placement in the highly resonant church acoustics.

-- All Music Guide

Of the three Schumann piano trios No. 1 in D minor is probably the most often played. No. 2 in F is the sunniest, while No. 3 in G minor is just one work among many which defy the much-repeated theory that Schumann was suffering from mental decline in the 1850s.

I very much like these performances, with only tiny reservations. The players have a genuine instinct for Schumann's music – its emotional ebb and flow, its expressive ardour, its blend of masculine and feminine characteristics, fire and tenderness, incisiveness and dreaming. As Hans Gál writes in his excellent BBC Music Guide to Schumann's Orchestral Music: “Schumann's style is not easy to describe. Exuberance is certainly a most essential component of it, and a cool, detached approach to his music is as impossible for the listener as for the performer. His soul is in every expressive phrase he shapes, and the instrument has to sing to do it justice.” This is equally true, if not more so, of the chamber music, and the players on these CDs are totally sensitive to these requirements. Take the first movement of the 3rd Trio, in which the composer's rhythmic obsessiveness becomes particularly intense where Schumann marks “Rascher”, before the understated, enigmatic ending. In this movement, within an ideal flexibility of tempo, every expressive nuance is cherished and there is a real sense of wonder in the new melody introduced at letter B (bar 35). The completely new material introduced in the development, including pizzicato quaver passages, is justly dramatic.

The D minor trio receives a really fine performance, though the 1928 Cortot/Thibaud/Casals recording will always be essential. The opening movement is magnificently turbulent, the ghostly passage at about the midway point (both stringed instruments playing near the bridge) being sensitively handled. In the slow movements of both this and the F major trio Gringolts, Kouzov and Laul capture that vital innig quality. The first movement of the F major work benefits from a not-too-fast tempo, while the subtle opening of the finale has the necessary spontaneity.

Among my small reservations are Gringolts' tendency to scoop or slither in some of his shifts - for example at the opening of the G minor trio – while, conversely, the players' emotional turbulence can lead to occasional heavy-handedness. These are very minor quibbles in the context of marvellously expressive playing. I gladly live with these excesses as part of their fiery, passionately involved performances. Late Schumann is often very elusive. In the same G minor trio, the change of key at letter D in the finale brings a section which is particularly difficult to bring off, but these players manage it very well. The opening theme of this finale is also problematic, the many grace notes being tricky to negotiate without harming the rhythm, but again these players make light work of it.

These performances will bring lasting pleasure. The most important qualities – the true Schumann characteristics already mentioned – are wonderfully evident and the players' total emotional commitment is admirable.

-- Philip Borg-Wheeler, MusicWeb International

"The rarity on the enterprising disc by Daniel Sepec and Andreas Staier is Schumann’s version of the Bach solo violin Chaconne, which adds a discreet piano accompaniment in order to make the piece more palatable to mid-19th-century taste.

Some ten years earlier, Mendelssohn had done the same for both this piece and the Prelude from the E major violin Partita, but Schumann went further, and supplied piano parts for all of Bach’s unaccompanied violin works, as well as the cello suites.

Perhaps in the Chaconne’s assertive opening chords we can detect the seeds of Schumann’s own violin sonata written in the same key of D minor, composed shortly after he had made his arrangement.

Schumann’s Chaconne actually sounds less grand than the original, and it rather sentimentalises the major-mode middle section of the piece, but it nevertheless affords a fascinating insight into the deep influence Bach had on the final phase of Schumann’s creative life.

Sepec and Staier give a fine performance, and the translucent tone of the 1837 piano by Pierre Erard (his instruments were favoured by Liszt) is even better suited to the Gesänge der Frühe (Dawn Songs) – Schumann’s last solo piano pieces to be published in his lifetime.

There’s much to enjoy in the violin sonatas, too, though the finale of the more modestly-proportioned A minor Sonata, taken at a very steady tempo, is rather lacking in tension; and Staier is over-generous with the sustaining pedal in the delicate staccato chords that accompany the violin’s pizzicato chorale theme in the third movement of the D minor Sonata No. 2.

Mind you, that all-important theme (anticipated, in typically Schumannesque fashion, in the closing moments of the preceding movement) is all but inaudible on the disc by Ilya Gringolts, where the piano’s bass-line is too heavily played by his less sensitive partner, Peter Laul.

Gringolts shapes the music admirably well throughout, and his disc includes the rarely-heard Third Sonata, which didn’t see the light of day until the 1950s."

-- Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine

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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 in G minor, Op. 110 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Peter Laul (Piano), Ilya Gringolts (Violin), Dmitry Kouzov (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in F major, Op. 80 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in D minor, Op. 63 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in A minor, WoO 27 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Ilya Gringolts (Violin), Peter Laul (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853; Germany 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in D minor, Op. 121 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in A minor, Op. 105 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1851; Germany 
Quintet for Piano and Strings in E flat major, Op. 44 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Quartet for Strings in F major, Op. 41 no 2 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Quartet for Strings in A minor, Op. 41 no 1 by Robert Schumann
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Quartet for Strings in A major, Op. 41 no 3 by Robert Schumann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gringolts String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 

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