With many thanks to Piero, who uploaded this into the comments on a previous posting, here is a wonderful piece of chamber music making.
The Schumann piano quartet has always languished in the shadow of the phenomenal piano quintet. The quintet just seems to play itself, and its pianistic difficulties (those horrifying rapid octaves, written to show off Clara's technique, for instance) are counterbalanced by the ease of the music itself. It never seems to outlast its welcome, or to lose its way.
The quartet, on the other hand, can easily seem repetitive, yammering in the piano part and curiously under-powered. Part of this has to do with the immense difference between the modern piano and the piano of Schumann's day. Many of the apparent doublings of the string parts by the piano are actually the reverse: the strings are doubling the piano to make sure that the piano line is audible! And the lighter, clearer sound of Schumann's piano (particularly in the bass) meant that those endless repeated chords bounced melodiously. On a modern piano, they have hardly time to establish the basic sound before they are cut off.
All of this makes the work really hard to bring off. And so, when Piero uploaded this performance, my hair stood on end. Just listen to the music making! The breathtaking clarity of Buniatishvili's playing is a key ingredient to the success. She creates feather-light textures that have a bell-like clarity without the faintest sense of the tone being muzzled. And this allows the energy and drive of her fellow-musicians to shine through. And what musicians! I couldn't get a shot of them all together, so I put a photo of each musician in each of the movements, and I have used a well-known shot of Robert and Clara for the posting.
This is chamber music of the highest order. If you ever had doubts about the Schumann quartet, abandon them here.
Incidentally, the Schumann's are pictured at a gate piano. The gate piano was so called because the whole action – keyboard, hammers, dampers, the lot – hinged outwards like a gate, allowing you to work on it very easily. When you close it, a long rod goes right down through it, holding it in place. I played on a piano like this one, beautifully restored, many years ago, at the home of Cathal Gannon, a wonderfully eccentric Irishman who built harpsichords and restored old pianos.
Schumann: Piano Quartet Op 47
Boris Brovtsyn (violin), Julian Rachlin [viola] Boris Andrianov [cello] Khatia Buniatishvili [piano]. Recorded 2009-12-28 in Vredenburg, Utrecht. 256 kbs.
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