The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Takács Quartet, Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
Composer: Schumann

As is to be expected, the Takács Quartet provides a sumptuous disc here. In places, however, this lush sound can result in a vibrato that is too wide and slow, especially in the descending fifth motif of the Quartet’s first movement, in which first violinist Edward Dusinberre and more frequently violist Geraldine Walther indulge in rather exaggerated uses of the device. Moreover, the descending leaps in this theme encourage portamento – a device in regular use in Schumann’s time, but rather apologetically referenced here. It shows, perhaps, some of the shortcomings of playing such works with little regard to contemporary performing practices.

The performance of the Quintet is much more vibrant and consistent, aided by Marc-André Hamelin’s animated pianism, although the march in the second movement feels a bit leaden at times and the agitato viola statement of the theme is both coarse and weak.

Taken as a whole, however, this disc shows the Takács Quartet still to be an ensemble of the first rank. Younger ensembles may restrain their use of the vibrato rather more, but such mannerisms are made up for by the depth and insight of these performances. Hyperion has produced this disc well with admirable clarity of sound, while the booklet notes provide an informative essay.

David Milsom