Jozef de Beenhouwer / Panocha Quartet

Schumann: Piano Quintet, Op. 44; Piano Quartet, Op. 47

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Even in this downsized age, CD racks and online search result pages are full of recordings of Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, and Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47, almost invariably paired as they are here. The piano parts, premiered by Clara Schumann, are impressive in themselves, and there are plenty of recordings in which a renowned pianist and chamber group are teamed, with suitably grand results in the sweeping Romantic melodies that abound in both works. This release from the small Belgian label Phaedra is different, featuring a Flemish pianist and Czech quartet of only modest fame, and it came together as a result of a concert in which the musicians played together for the first time. It's well worth the time of chamber music aficionados, for these are distinctive readings of these well-worn works. The lead creative force seems to be pianist Jozef de Beenhouwer, a veteran Schumann pianist who has focused on the music of both Schumann spouses. He wants to take some of the late-Romantic grandeur out of both works, leaving music for which it is easy to imagine the visiting Franz Liszt's complaint that it was "too Leipzigerisch," or too much like Mendelssohn, but it's not like there's anything wrong with that. Beenhouwer pushes the tempos in the outer movements and gives them an intriguing racing quality, with the heavily fugal finales seeming to explode in spontaneous contrapuntal virtuosity. Very exciting! The seriousness of the slow movements is taken down a notch; the "in modo d'una Marcia" movement of the quintet is less funereal than quietly resigned. Beenhouwer is expertly backed by the Panocha String Quartet in readings that must have taken a lot of work to hold together. Notes in the elegant two-color booklet are in Dutch, English, French, and German.

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