Critique of the Schumann Quartet/Anna Lucia Richter – an immaculate playing favoring efficiency over emotion | Classical music
Jhe Schumann Quartet acquired a new violist earlier this year, with Veit Benedikt Hertenstein joining the three brothers who give the group its name. The personnel change was obviously handled smoothly; the sense of unanimity and collective purpose of this recital with mezzo-soprano Anna Lucia Richter was undoubtedly impressive.
The qualities of their playing, but also its shortcomings, were best demonstrated in the string quartets that framed the concert, Op 41 No. 3 in A by Schumann and Op 51 No. 2 in A minor by Brahms. In both works, the set was impeccable, but the interpretations totally lacked character. Everything was homogenized; even the personalities of the individual players merged into a faceless company, highlighted by their identical blue suits. The Schumann is a work of melancholy beauty, but there was no feeling of affection for him here, nor a willingness to unravel the gnarliest corners of the Brahms. The sole objective, it seems, was to present the two works as effectively as possible.
Schumann and Brahms were also the starting point for the concert’s world premiere, by Stefan Heucke Frei aber Einsam. Subtitled “Fantasy on Love Songs by Clara and Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms”, it includes four songs (two by Brahms, one by each of the Schumanns), arranges their piano accompaniments for string quartet, and surrounds them with interludes instrumentals, apparently using numerals based on the composers’ names, as well as the violinist’s motto FAE Joseph Joachimclose friend and champion of Brahms.
The interludes – mostly in a late romantic idiom not unlike early Schoenberg – seemed inconsequential. Although Richter delivered the songs with great commitment, it came across as an unnecessary sentimental exercise. A song like Widmung, one of Schumann’s greatest, gained nothing from such a context, and the mezzo was heard to much better effect in the set of Brahms’ Ophelia Lieder, which were tactfully performed by string quartet arrangements by Aribert Reimann that allowed the miniatures to speak for themselves.