Various Artists

Schumann: Chamber Music

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Although Schumann penned chamber music throughout the bulk of his compositional career, 1842 marked a banner year for his output. With astonishing ease and mastery, Schumann completed the three string quartets, the piano quartet and quintet, and the Op. 46 Andante & Variations. Of these works, the Op. 44 Piano Quintet has endured as one of Schumann's most celebrated chamber compositions, followed shortly by the remainder of the works written in the same year. On this five-disc EMI set, the 1842 works are also the stars of the set. The Cherubini Quartet takes center stage and, joined by pianist Christian Zacharias, delivers performances of Opp. 41 (string quartets) and 44 that are Beethovenian in their rhythmic intensity and drive; Mozartian in their clean, crisp elegance; and Mendelssohnian in their energetic execution of intricacy and filigree. The performances on the first two discs of the collection alone warrant further study by listeners. The rest of the set offers quality performances of the bulk of Schumann's chamber works, but not with the same drive, precision, or intensity as the first two discs. The two piano trios, performed by the Grieg Trio, drag slightly instead of pushing ahead; Argerich and Schwarzberg's reading of the Second Violin Sonata is muscular and energetic, but lacking in the same crisp refinement. This, of course, is a difficulty with large compilations such as this: it is difficult to put together a uniform set of performances from such vastly different performers. Still, as an introduction to these works, this set is a solid choice; for collectors, the Cherubini's Opp. 41 & 44 make this worth adding to your shelf.

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