Schumann: The Piano Trios; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet review – exuberance with refinement

·2-min read

Schumann composed four piano trios altogether – the three that are numbered, and a set of four pieces for violin, cello and piano that were published as the Fantasiestücke, Op 88. Trio Wanderer’s survey also includes Schumann’s two best-known chamber works, the Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, in which they are joined by the viola player Christophe Gaugué and violinist Catherine Montier.

Despite their opus number, the Fantasiestücke were composed in 1842, the same year as the Piano Quartet and Quintet, and five years before the first two of the piano trios (the third followed in 1852). Schumann was then at the height of his powers, after the outpouring of songs in 1840 and the composition of the First Symphony the following year. There’s an exuberance about the quintet especially that is carried forward into some of the fantasy pieces, and there Trio Wanderer capture that sense of playfulness very well.

In the quintet itself and the quartet, though, they sometimes favour tempi, both fast and slow, that aren’t entirely to the benefit of the music; the opening of the quartet takes its sostenuto assai marking a bit too literally, for instance, while the rushing scherzo of the quintet sometimes threatens to trip over its own feet.

But the virtues of the Wanderer’s playing, their immaculate ensemble and balance, really come into their own in the numbered trios, which are perhaps less obviously characterful than the quintet and quartet, and require a more subtle approach. The first trio, in D minor, may have suffered in comparison with Mendelssohn’s tumultuous 1839 piano trio in the same key, but it’s a fine, troubled work in its own right, and the Wanderer performance contrasts it nicely with the much more extrovert Piano Trio No 2, in F major, also composed in 1847. Sometimes the textures do seem a little muddy – the performances of the Schumann trios by Isabelle Faust, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov certainly show the benefits of period instruments in these works – but overall these performances are so civilised and refined that hardly matters.

This week’s other pick

The second of Schumann’s three piano sonatas, the G minor Op 22, begins Fabian Müller’s recital disc for Berlin Classics, Passionato. As his 2016 debut showed, Müller likes to mix and match his repertoire, relishing the contrasts that result, and so here he follows the sonata with Brahms’s two Rhapsodies Op 79, Rihm’s Piano Piece No 5, “Tombeau”, and Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata, Op 57. He’s a wonderfully persuasive interpreter of all four composers, fully on top of the virtuoso demands of the Schumann, always keeping the excitement of the Appassionata within musical bounds, and thrillingly dramatic in Rihm’s expressionist triptych.