Quatuor Hanson Explore Schumann’s Journey

Three string quartets and a piano quintet (piano plus string quartet). Your first impression is that one of these things doesn’t belong. But it does. 

Robert Schumann wrote his three string quartets in a white heat of inspiration. Within a few weeks in the summer of 1842, he had composed the three quartets, about an hour and a half of music. And then he immediately started on his piano quintet, finishing it soon after. 

All four works share commonalities, and all four can be seen as a single exploration of the quartet genre. The Opus 41 quartets were presented to Clara Schumann for her birthday in September 1842. The quintet was written with Clara in mind for the piano part. 

Schumann is at the top of his form here. These are well-crafted chamber works. There’s a good variety of textures. And there’s also a great deal of back-and-forth between instruments. That characteristic makes for pleasant playing — and listening. 

The Quatuor Hanson gives these quartets thoughtful and sensitive readings. Schumann was an emotional person — perhaps too much so. The quartet pours emotion into their playing. 

They heighten the contrast between loud and soft passages, especially when they’re abrupt. It gives the works a nervous energy that seems very Schumann, indeed.

Pianist Adam Laloum joins the quartet for the Opus 33 Piano Quintet in E-flat major. Laloum specializes in the German Romantic composers. His catalog includes two solid recordings of Franz Schubert’s piano music. That Romantic sensitivity serves him well here.

Schumann wrote this work for his beloved Clara, and he knew her strengths. The quintet sparkles with virtuosity, especially in this performance. The gestures are big, but they were meant to be. 

I recommend listening to this album straight through. It’s almost like experiencing one large work in four major sections. The quintet grows out of the quartets. It’s a connection that’s easy to hear, and one these performers were careful to make. Well done. 

Robert Schumann: String Quartets; Piano Quintet
Quatuor Hanson; Adam Laloum, piano
Harmonia Mundi HMM902778.27

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