Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pacifica Quartet shines more with Schumann than with Brahms in new recording

Guest Review by Peter Schütte

The Pacifica Quartet's newest recording on the Cedille label features the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor (Op. 34) with Menahem Pressler and the Schumann String Quartet in A Minor (Op. 41, No. 1). The Pacifica Quartet is a great group, and they benefit by collaborating with Pressler, a man who thrives at his high age and is fully alive and full of music and grand experience.

Not very long ago I heard the Pacifica Quartet perform the same music as is on this CD with Pressler at the piano as well and had a very different experience - sitting in the audience during that live performance versus hearing the studio recording by the same superb musicians. It made me realize again that a live concert generated a warmth and thrill that did not reach me through this studio recording no matter how well it was played. Not fair, but I could not help experiencing that I missed that the thrill and tension and joy I felt in the live concert so much more.

But in listening to the recording of the Brahms Piano Quintet - right away with the first great statement the music exploded and then when Pressler joined in - I indeed did for a moment felt that rare tingle in my back. That's a good sign and I set down my cup of tea to listen what would follow. What followed was the Quintet but Brahms seemed not to be there. It is all excellent but.... would I think about this differently had I not been present at that live concert a few weeks ago? I decided to do something else for a while and then try again. But when I came back hours later I must admit that this is not the performance that took a hold of me. I have heard better I am sorry to say. One thought about is that this studio performance is perhaps lacking inspiration, drama? After all, a bare studio full with microphones can be not very inspiring!

Finally when coming into the fourth movement I felt much better with the excellent playing and the ensemble's building towards the ending of a very Brahmsian world of inner music-making. Still, the recording of this piece left me a cool bystander rather than a person listening, almost participating with passion and promise for more.

But when moving on to the Schumann Quartet, I heard the Pacifica players following Schumann in some of his swinging mood differences in a warmly and inspired performance. Frankly I was happily impressed by this performance. Not only did I feel a greater affection and musical joy in the playing, the beautiful dynamics, and general the by now well known excellence of these musicians was a welcome change. What also seems different is the acoustics. The sound is warmer, deeper and more alive. Suddenly I see each player perform like in the concert hall again and I am feeling surrounded by their music making where in the Brahms I did not have that feeling of anticipation and deep listening. A lovely Adagio third movement and an wildly and dancing presto bringing this great piece to an end. Schumann in his sharply contrasting moods but oh so full of inspiration and passion! And a finely balanced and full sounding recording probably in another venue and better acoustics as in the first Brahms piece.

I would take this Schumann alone for the fine performance and will listen again and again with pleasure. I do miss the warm applause after such inspired music-making and wished this would come more often with such a concert on a CD!

Peter Schütte is a career photographer and artist with a longstanding love of great music.

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