Leipziger Streichquartett / Christian Zacharias

Schumann: Piano Quintet; String Quartets

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What the world needs now is a great recording of Schumann's string quartets. There are dozens of excellent recordings of the quartets of his contemporary, Felix Mendelssohn, so one might think Schumann's quartets would receive the same treatment, but the majority of the recordings are mediocre at best and lackadaisical at worst. One has high hopes for this Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm two-disc set of the German Romantic's quartets coupled with his piano quintet performed by the Leipziger Streichquartett and pianist Christian Zacharias. After all, the Leipziger has delivered superb recordings of quartets by Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn and one would have thought that Schumann's quartets would have been right up the group's alley.

But unfortunately, though still plainly the same group with the same tight ensemble, same unified tone, and same polished technique, the Leipziger Streichquartett's performances here could be best described as lackluster. It seems to have no feel for Schumann's music, and though the musicians observe all the marks in the score, the performances seem prosaic rather than inspired, and pro forma rather than dedicated. Where one wants subjectivity, it delivers objectivity; where one wants poetry, it delivers prose; and where one wants passion, it delivers flat, foursquare readings. Nor does Zacharias enliven the proceedings in the piano quintet, which is one of the dullest recordings of this exciting piece. There is nothing technically wrong with these performances, but interpretively, they are just bland. Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm's digital sound is clear, clean, warm, and vivid.

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