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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Sunset in the Rockies by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)
Private Collection / © Christie's Images / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67631
Recording details: May 2009
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2009
Total duration: 26 minutes 42 seconds

'Oustanding musicianship and virtuosity abound on this stunning disc … the sense is of true chamber interplay between five equals … the Hyperion sound is more spacious … and once again the Takács revel in the classical logic of Schumann's vision … that this disc simply gets better and better on repeated listening is ample recommendation' (Gramophone)

'Such an outstanding ensemble as the Takács … [A major quartet] fabulous textural clarity, revealing just how imaginatively resourceful Schumann's writing is, and a special feeling for the troubled, nervous strands in his musical personality' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Schumann's virtuosic Piano Quintet is one of the glories of the repertoire … the Takács and Hamelin, at once delicate and muscular, combine to spellbinding effect. The earlier String Quartet Op 41 No 3 is played with wistful tenderness' (The Observer)

'The Takács and Hamelin have just the right combination of tensile strength and lyrical ardour … the poise and quality of the playing is exceptional throughout … the Takács possess a poetry and fluency that make for very absorbing listening: this is compelling, concentrated quartet playing of very high quality … there are excellent notes by Misha Donat and both works benefit from wonderfully natural recorded sound. The result is a Schumann disc of great distinction' (International Record Review)

'The verve of the Takács is irresistible, especially when the players are partnered in the Piano Quintet by Marc-André Hamelin … the heart quickens most when Hamelin's febrile fingers urge the strings ever further into the Quintet's special blend of turbulence, joy and nostalgia' (The Times)

'As is to be expected, the Takács Quartet provide a sumptuous disc here … an ensemble of the first rank. Younger ensembles may restrain their use of the vibrato rather more, but such mannerisms are made up for by the depth and insight of these performances. Hyperion has produced this disc well with admirable clarity of sound, while the booklet notes provide an informative essay' (The Strad)

'Empfehlung des Monats … das Klavierquintett klingt gleichermaßen beredt wie fantasievoll, nicht zuletzt dank Marc-Andre Hamelin. Spielfreudiger, kenntnisreicher lasst sich das. [Streichquartett] kaum darstellen' (Fono Forum, Germany)

String Quartet in A major, Op 41 No 3
composer
July 1842; published in 1843 with a dedication to Mendelssohn

Adagio molto  [7'24]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Schumann’s chamber music year of 1842 had begun some eight months before the completion of his Piano Quintet, with what he noted in his diary in February as ‘constant quartet thoughts’. From the same source we learn that April was devoted to an intensive study of the string quartets of Haydn and Mozart. Only once he had absorbed the works of his great predecessors did Schumann get down to the serious business of composing a series of string quartets of his own. The first two of the three works published as his Op 41—his only works of the kind—were written in rapid succession in June, though they were almost certainly revised in the following weeks; while the third, again composed within the space of a fortnight or so, was added in July. The three works were issued in 1843, with a dedication to Mendelssohn.

Schumann’s quartets were first played through by an ensemble led by Ferdinand David, who had been appointed by Mendelssohn as leader of the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra some six years earlier. (It was for David that Mendelssohn was to compose his famous Violin Concerto.) Shortly after completing the three works, Schumann wrote to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel: ‘We have played them several times at David’s house, and they seemed to give pleasure to players and listeners, and especially also to Mendelssohn. It is not for me to say anything more about them; but you may rest assured that I have spared no pains to produce something really respectable—indeed, I sometimes think my best.’

In addition to his study of string quartets by Haydn and Mozart, Schumann had reacquainted himself with the quartets of Beethoven, and their influence can be felt at the outset of his String Quartet in A major Op 41 No 3, in the notion of prefacing the opening movement with a slow introduction that foreshadows the shape of the Allegro’s main subject. In that introduction, however, it must be said that the music speaks with a distinctly Schumannesque voice. Both the ‘drooping’ melodic interval with which it begins (it is heard unaccompanied, as a distant echo of its former self, in the bar immediately preceding the onset of the Allegro), and the manner in which it is harmonized, provide the springboard for the movement’s main theme. As for the Allegro’s second subject, it is again thoroughly characteristic: a smoothly moving cello theme whose phrases reach their apex on the weak second beat of the bar. Not only does the theme itself appear to contradict the prevailing metre, but the simple accompaniment from the remaining players is written persistently off the beat, so that the whole passage sounds disturbingly dislocated.

Schumann will have found no shortage of pieces in variation form to study in the string quartets of Mozart and Beethoven. But while those composers invariably restricted their use of variations to either the slow movement or the finale, Schumann, in a highly original stroke, casts his Scherzo as a set of variations. Its agitated, breathlessly syncopated theme gives rise to four variations, as well as a coda in which the music suddenly takes wing in the major. The second variation shows the intensive contrapuntal studies Schumann had undertaken a number of years earlier bearing fruit; while the third is a gentle siciliano whose key of F sharp minor, as well as its ‘Neapolitan’ tinges (leaning on the flattened second degree of the scale) may call to mind the profound slow movement of Mozart’s A major Piano Concerto K488.

Following his lyrically intense slow movement, with its contrasting episode unfolding over an insistent march-like rhythm in repeated notes, Schumann presents a finale of jaunty insouciance. This is one of his strictly sectional pieces, with recurring episodes creating a patchwork design rather similar to that of some of his piano cycles of the 1830s. One of those episodes makes a return to the key and agitated atmosphere of the Scherzo second movement; while another, curiously labelled ‘quasi trio’, is a more relaxed affair—a theme of courtly elegance that seems deliberately to recall the gavotte from Bach’s French Suite in E major. At the end, the main theme’s bouncing rhythm is elaborated to form a grandiose coda.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2009

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