Schumann: The Piano Trios; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Trio Wanderer
(Harmonia Mundi, three CDs)
Trio Wanderer capture Schumann’s playfulness in a group of works demanding contrast and balance

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.

Trio Wanderer: Schumann: The Piano Trios; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet.
Trio Wanderer: Schumann: The Piano Trios; Piano Quintet; Piano Quartet. Photograph: Harmonia Mundi

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.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Romance: The Piano Music of Clara Schumann review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Two centuries after her birth, this tribute to Schumann is a muscular argument for her music, which is influenced more by Chopin than her husband Robert

Andrew Clements

11, Jul, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schumann (Gerhaher Huber) Alle Lieder review - Schumann lovers will find it irresistible
Christian Gerhaher is front and centre of this impressive complete song project, to which he brings precision and attention to detail

Andrew Clements

23, Sep, 2021 @4:22 PM

Schumann: Piano Trios – review
Though technically beyond criticism, these admirable performances lack affection for Schumann's music, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

19, May, 2011 @9:00 PM

Article image
Schumann: The Symphonies review – bombast and revelation | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
The Staatskapelle’s sumptuous playing is hard to fault, but conductor Thielemann is too overblown at times

Andrew Clements

18, Apr, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schumann: Myrthen review – warm and poetic songs for a wedding | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week
Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber and Camilla Tilling deliver bright and varied recordings of songs the composer wrote for his wife

Andrew Clements

24, Oct, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Stille Liebe: Lieder by Robert Schumann review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Hasselhorn’s rich, dark baritone captures Schumann’s extraordinary extremes of light and darkness and Middleton is a discerning accompanist

Andrew Clements

17, Sep, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
Elgar: String Quartet; Piano Quintet  review | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week
A century after the composer’s String Quartet and Piano Quintet were premiered, the Brodsky Quartet return them to the spotlight

Andrew Clements

25, Apr, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Schumann; Liszt; Janáček; Brahms CD review – an intimate, artful piano recital

Erica Jeal

20, Apr, 2017 @2:15 PM

Article image
Schumann: Cello Concerto; Piano Trio No 1 CD review – intimately conversational

Andrew Clements

21, Apr, 2016 @2:00 PM

Schumann: String Quartets Op 41; Piano Quintet – review
There is something about Gringolts's playing, with its mixture of expressive schmaltz, exaggerated point-making and sometimes almost brutal assertiveness, that is hard to take, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

17, Nov, 2011 @10:35 PM