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The 2007 Auryn Quartet inscriptions with Peter Orth, of the 1842 Schumann large pieces for chamber ensemble, remind us how experimental the medium appeared to the composer, who was just beginning to move out of the solo piano and lieder uses of the keyboard. After some amorphous harmonies from late Beethoven, a four-note motif dominates the first movement of the Piano Quartet, followed by rising and falling scales that complement an evolving sonata-form. The breadth and energy of the themes remains relatively intimate, however, even with its insistent jittery ostenati in the supporting figures and the relative brightness of Orth’s tone. The Scherzo fuses aspects of rondo and Mendelssohnian wispy interlude. Already Schumann likes to include two trios, a modus operand that he employs in his symphonic works. The delicacy of colors sparks the Auryn’s realization, crisp and serenely confident at once. 


Cello Andreas Arndt and violin Matthias Lingerfelder couple most elegantly for the Andante cantabile, a marvelous hybrid of aria and hymn. The keyboard makes the ensuing, liquid progressions florid variants without losing the noble thread of melody that connects the whole. The diaphanous coda prefigures the opening of the elaborately worked out counterpoint of the Finale, where formal fugal structure might overwhelm the fountain of poetry. A few jarring syncopations and shifts of meter, however, and Schumann alleviates the academicism of the piece with furious and delightful invention. Orth’s plastic figures and sparkling tonal accuracy propel this brisk and facile collaboration to a witty and buoyant conclusion.

Orth and the Auryn players launch into the Piano Quintet, certainly the most beloved chamber work by Schumann. The swooping and dramatic figures of the first movement unfold in a seamless progression of march rhythms and two-note melodic kernels. The atmosphere abides in a plaintive nostalgia for a dream that all too quickly metamorphoses into its own dark side. Fierce modulations take us to the recapitulation, a really grand sound, symphonic in aspiration then a quiet whisper. The coda’s peroration leaves us breathless. What follows is that gloomy C Minor In modo d’una Marcia, used by Hollywood to augment many a Bela Lugosi melodrama. What we too often forget is the immaculate flowing beauty of the counter theme, Romanticism personified. The Auryn achieve almost a stasis of rhythm, the music suspended in some aether far from a fallen world. The second interlude explodes in polyphonic passion, inserting the funeral march into the viola (Stewart Eaton). With the reappearance of the limpid second theme we move into C Major, and we can claim with Donne that "Death, Thou shalt die!"

Torrential figures move up and down the scale for the Scherzo, with its two interludes. Those interludes themselves alternately resemble a gentle ballade and a furious etude in sixteenth notes. Beautiful balances in the piano and strings, courtesy of Andreas Spreer, capture the facile interplay of all parts. Another burst of energy - this time in G Minor - opens the last movement, whose richness of imagination embraces the first movement in transparent counterpoint. A colossal resolution pervades the Auryn’s realization of this movement, a fleet momentum that does not quit. The tonal struggles - E-flat and E Major - wend their way with a steady inevitability that the ensuing fugue only elaborates but does not impede. We feel that the ensemble relishes Schumann’s ingenious figures at every turn.
Gary Lemco

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