Schumann
String Quartet in A minor, Op.41/1
String Quartet in F, Op.41/2
String Quartet in A, Op.41/3
Fine Arts Quartet [Ralph Evans & Efim Boico (violins), Yuri Gandelsman (viola) & Wolfgang Laufer (cello)]

Recorded 11 & 13-15 February 2006 in the Library of Wittem Monastery, The Netherlands
CD No: NAXOS 8.570151
Duration: 79 minutes
Reviewed: January 2007
Two years after his ‘Year of Song’ (1840), Robert Schumann had a ‘Year of Chamber Music’. 1842 was the year of these three string quartets, the piano quintet and the piano quartet. Even for Schumann devotees, his chamber music tends to be neglected, the glorious Piano Quintet aside, in favour of the wonderful symphonies and piano music (although this may be more of a personal statement!).
And while Schumann’s string quartet trilogy does not lack for advocates (such as the Ysaÿe Quartet, on the Aeon label), these lovingly prepared and perceptive readings from the Fine Arts Quartet, captured in lucid sound, have one re-thinking this particular body of Schumann’s work with rejuvenated interest.
Each work, no, each movement is a gem; beautifully crafted after the examples of Haydn and Mozart, and with the slow movement of the A minor Quartet surely consciously close to the corresponding section of Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony. Such soulful utterance is tenderly brought out by the Fine Arts Quartet, its members deft and buoyant conveyers of the fine mesh of interaction that is the finale of the F major work, the most concise of the threesome.
The most expansive is the A major composition, 32 minutes here. Its touchingly expressive first movement leads the ear (and heart) on to many riches; and it’s in this introduction that one hears, gratifyingly, many ‘old-style’ touches from the Fine Arts musicians, an established name among string quartets, the group having been formed in 1946. Three of the current members have each notched up 25 years of service. The group’s lineage seems to be jealousy guarded; and this is the sort of playing that makes one want to explore further the Fine Arts Quartet’s projects.
If these quartets – which are not over-burdened either emotionally or texturally, yet they have the capacity to move and transport – are, as suggested, in need of greater dissemination, then this issue is an invaluable (and budget price) contribution to the cause. Cost doesn’t enter into it, though (although Naxos’s price-point is not to be gainsaid, of course) – for with a comprehensive booklet note and performances of distinction and persuasion, this is a thoroughly recommendable issue at any price: a release and an ensemble that is once messenger and champion of Schumann’s quartet triptych.

 

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