Quatuor Hermès

Schumann: 3 string quartets, Op. 41

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This album of Robert Schumann's three string quartets by France's young Quatuor Hermès comes with Japanese translations of the booklet and track list. This raises an interesting question: as the market for music of the Western classical tradition grows in Asian countries, might unusual performances of repertory works influence the nature of the repertory going forward in countries where it is new? Certainly one could imagine a situation in which this recording caused the Schumann string quartets to be accorded a status higher than the middle-level position they enjoy in the West. The Quatuor Hermès offers readings that are both iconoclastic and executed at a very high level. In a word, they're electrifying. They seem to have tapped into the influence of Beethoven's revolutionary late quartets on Schumann and linked it to the spirit of fantasy and, to use the group's own word, madness that runs through all his music. This is Schumann of an ecstatic, arch-Romantic sort, with sharp tempo contrasts -- listen to the finale of the String Quartet in A minor, Op. 41/1, which almost, but not quite, goes over the edge -- and a passionate attitude toward the chains of melody that seem, once one has been conditioned to listen to the works this way, to have grown straight out of the likes of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. Revelatory and committed, this is a Schumann recording that will be remembered and treasured.

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