Bruce Hodges hears the performance of Schulhoff, Schumann and Haydn at Philadelphia’s Perelman Theater on 16 January 2024 


A memorable debut from the Goldmund Quartet. Photo: Gregor Hohenberg

Why aren’t works by Schulhoff programmed more often? That question lingered in the air, after the Goldmund Quartet offered a ferocious reading of his Five Pieces (from 1924). Structured as a set of irreverent dance homages – a waltz, a serenade, a Czech folk tune, a tango and a tarantella – the whole made a strong impression in the lithe hands of this estimable ensemble, making its Philadelphia debut. The musicians use four instruments once owned by Nicolò Paganini, courtesy of the Nippon Music Foundation: any quartet would be ecstatic to have such a piece of history at their fingertips.

In an illuminating pre-concert talk, Zev Kane (programme director of WRTI in Philadelphia) mentioned that Haydn likely influenced Schumann’s Third Quartet in A major, written amid a flurry of activity. So Haydn’s ‘Fifths’ Quartet (in D minor op.76 no.2) provided a textbook introduction to his talented successor. Its 20 minutes were filled with the prolific title interval ringing sweetly: when those 5ths are precisely executed, that consonant buzz is oh so satisfying.

Following this preface, the Schumann that ended the evening gained even greater resonance. The Goldmund players positioned the poetic third movement as the apex – the climax of a sensuous evolution buoyed by the group’s (again) pristine intonation and immaculately calculated bowing, among other virtues. The dotted rhythms in the finale were so well drilled that I was thinking about them for days afterwards.