Jerusalem Quartet / Alexander Melnikov

Schumann: Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet

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The pairing of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44, with his Piano Quartet, Op. 47, in the same key is a natural one, and there are plenty of choices on the market. Schumann is at his most Beethovenian in these chamber works, symphonic on a chamber canvas, forging big, noble themes that are susceptible to a vast range of unexpected complexities and developments. Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov and Israel's Jerusalem Quartet deliver tight readings that are fully competitive with those by better-known combinations. They sacrifice a bit of the broad, Beethovenian quality in favor of a certain incisive flavor, crafting distinctive interpretations and working them out in detail. Sample the opening movement of the Piano Quintet (track 5), which as a whole clocks in at 28:24, perhaps a minute under the average. It has a restless quality that expands into a driving, almost demonic quality in the scherzo. Certainly this is not an unfamiliar flavor for Schumann, but to apply it to these abstract chamber works is an original stroke. The slow movement of the Piano Quartet is deeply lyrical with Melnikov's graceful figures playing off nicely against the elegant lines of Kyril Zlotnikov's cello. Harmonia Mundi's studio sound is all that can be desired, and even if some listeners may be missing a certain emotional payoff in these recordings, they nevertheless represent a considerable accomplishment.

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