Pires’ Schumann Concerto & Quintet

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 7

Long time collectors who remember Guiomar Novaes’ intimate, impulsive approach to the burlier portions of Schumann’s Piano Concerto will find a sonically upgraded parallel in the form of Maria João Pires. The Portuguese pianist’s finest work is in the slow movement, where she plays up the piano/orchestra dialogue for all it’s worth, abetted by Claudio Abbado’s responsive accompaniment. In the outer movements, though, Pires’ handling of the gnarly chordal sequences lacks the bedrock security and tonal heft Murray Perahia brings to his Abbado-led version on Sony. The latter, moreover, features the Berlin Philharmonic, which plays with more finesse and sophistication than the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Indeed, the Berliners are in better form here than in their earlier Schumann Concerto with Abbado, with Pollini manning the keyboard.

Pires and cohorts have tweaked the Schumann Piano Quintet’s stinging edges to a fault, while their dazzling, blended virtuosity is quashed by over-resonant miking better suited to, say, a Bruckner symphony. Loud tuttis are particularly mushy, in contrast to EMI’s robust, focused sonics for Martha Argerich and friends. If you want Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Piano Quintet on one disc, Rudolf Serkin’s supercharged versions from the early 1960s (CBD Great Performances) have tremendous authority and pack an emotional wallop.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Rudolf Serkin (Sony)

ROBERT SCHUMANN - Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 54; Piano Quintet in E-flat major Op. 54

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