The Strad's experts evaluate the latest string recordings
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major op.44. Dvořák Piano Quintet in A major op.81
Spontaneous Schumann wins over tautened Dvořák in this well-intentioned coupling
Wednesday, 26 December 2012
Elias Quartet, Jonathan Biss (piano)
Schumann & Dvořák
ONYX CLASSICS ONYX 4092
From the outset this is a reading of Schumann’s Piano Quintet where a self-generating spontaneity sees the unbridled happiness of the opening movement pass almost in a trice. Nor does the slow movement’s impetus get sidetracked, as is so often the case, in pointing to details, yet the ensemble is meticulously precise and the Elias’s intonation spotlessly clean. In a scherzo taken very quickly, Jonathan Biss’s crisp articulation is an essential ingredient, and the joyful mood of their opening movement returns in an unhurried finale where the texture is unfailingly transparent. Without reservation I commend this as a first choice.
In the case of the Dvořák I have reservations. It is a work that does not always travel well outside its native land, and early in the first movement I already miss those subtle nuances one hears, for instance, in the Panocha Quartet’s Teldec recording. There remains much affection in the warmth of the strings, a second movement that is charmingly playful, and a finale full of vitality. I am sure this is an interpretation that would have matured and loosened up given more time, and I am sure it would have worked better, too, if subjected to a more soft-grained recording than the bright and delineated one that Onyx’s engineers produce throughout.
From the December 2012 issue. Subscribe to The Strad or download our digital edition as part of a 30-day free trial.