Schubert Ensemble of London

Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat, Op. 44; Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47

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The Schubert ensemble has existed in some capacity for 23 years now, delivering performances of the standard repertoire for piano and strings. As such, it would be hoped that their performance would be tight, well-rehearsed, and sensitive. This recording of the Schumann Piano Quintet, Op. 44, and Piano Quartet, Op. 47, hits the mark in almost every respect. The individual playing by all of the musicians is quite enjoyable, from the deep guttural viola solos in the quintet second movement to the flashy Haydn-esque first violin playing in the quartet finale. The ensemble itself is very precise; each member expertly matches bow stroke, vibrato, and tone color, making for an extremely unified offering.

The only area this recording misses the mark with is occasionally in balance. When the string players perform alone, the balance is quite natural sounding. Even in the thick chorale passages of the quartet's first movement, the melody is easily distinguished from the harmony, but not a single note is ever lost. When the piano's right hand joins the strings, the balance is still quite favorable, but everything changes with the left hand in forte passages. The general sound quality shifts unpleasantly from clear to muddy and overly reverberant, almost omitting the inner voices of the strings. Still, the overall performance is strong and the interpretation is sensitive and vibrant.

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