It’s hard to believe that the earlier Naxos recording of Schumann’s Piano Quintet (8.550406) has been around since 1990. Jenő Jandó and the Kodály Quartet give a superb account of the work and their coupling of the Brahms Piano Quintet is equally good. Having immediately dipped briefly into both recordings on receipt of this new CD the first striking similarity is the recording quality. There is very little to choose between them. A good recording is always a good recording - full stop and the 1990 production still sounds fresh and easy on the ear. Which one should you choose? Well, it probably comes down to the coupling. The Fine Arts Quartet offers an all-Schumann disc, a generous playing time and excellent performances throughout.
The new disc is full of life and does, admittedly, have a few more interpretative touches and extra elasticity of phrasing when compared to Jandó and the Kodály Quartet who present the music in a more straightforward manner. The opening movement of the Quintet is superb, romantic music with its dynamic, attention-grabbing opening theme followed by a soulful, flowing cello melody, presented very beautifully here by Wolfgang Laufer. The viola player, Nicola Eugelmi, is equally distinguished in his key role in the central section of the slow movement - at around 5:30. The Scherzo and final Allegro are despatched with vigour and abandon but also crucially with great care and attention to detail. The Scherzo is a stunning piece of writing and once heard it’s very hard to get it out of your head. This Quintet is one of Schumann’s supreme masterpieces and I urge anyone who doesn’t know it to buy either of these Naxos CDs and get acquainted.
Overall, the Quartet scales the same musical heights as its distinguished Op. 44 companion. There are some memorable moments, especially the heavenly opening of the first movement and the meltingly lovely slow movement. This wonderful Andante is presented very simply and touchingly by each individual player in a seamless, flowing performance. This is chamber music playing at its finest. Although the Scherzo is emotionally similar to the one that the composer wrote for his Quintet it’s thematically less memorable. However, the concluding finale is a stunner, bringing together as it does the different elements of the Scherzo and Andante movements. It culminates in a fabulous flourish that would bring the house down in a live concert. This is another fine performance.
Märchenerzählungen is a work I hadn’t come across before. There are two versions, one including viola and clarinet and the other using viola and violin as performed here. This is Schumann in one of his less stressful moods. It’s as close as he ever got to salon music and I enjoyed it very much. It’s tuneful and uncomplicated and brings the CD to a very satisfying conclusion.
Naxos has given us two fine versions of the Schumann Quintet. This latest is fully up to scratch in terms of musicianship and recording quality. For Schumann lovers the couplings will clinch the deal. This is a really excellent release.