The opening of Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet grabs you by the lapels and says, "Pay attention!" Schumann was born 200 years ago. Getty Images / Hulton Archive hide caption

toggle caption
Getty Images / Hulton Archive

The opening of Robert Schumann's Piano Quintet grabs you by the lapels and says, "Pay attention!" Schumann was born 200 years ago.

Getty Images / Hulton Archive

Classics in Concert

Schumann's Piano Quintet In E-flat, In ConcertWGBH Radio

Schumann: Piano Quintet, Op. 44

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/127536903/127531483" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Intensity. There's no more appropriate word to describe Robert Schumann. Everything in his life seemed to be done with nothing less than total commitment, from his unrelenting pursuit of the love of his life, Clara, to his determination to make a career of composing. Even his way of pursuing that career was a full immersion approach — spending a year writing songs, then a year on symphonic music, followed by nothing but chamber music.

Schumann's gangbusters work ethic resulted in some of the best material for music festivals, where performers come together for brief, highly concentrated collaborations. The Montreal Chamber Music Festival was just such a setting for this performance of the Piano Quintet in E-flat, played by some of Canada's signature musicians, the Quatuor Claudel-Canimex and pianist André Laplante, at St. John's Church.

Not surprisingly for Schumann, the Quintet's opening grabs you by the lapels (albeit with a smile) and says, "Pay attention!" The effect is so powerful that when the second movement begins — with its slow, dark and dignified march, offset by a sweetly lyrical second theme — your heart is still pounding with anxiety. The Scherzo that follows is bright and mercurial, influenced perhaps by the music of Schumann's friend, Felix Mendelssohn. Nevertheless, it continues that slightly too-tight grip on your arm, pulling you forward, while demonstrating just how much Schumann's previous year, dedicated to symphonies, spilled into this Quintet. It's as though the Second Symphony was put on a diet, and trimmed down to its bare essentials.

By the time the locomotive beginning of the last movement gathers steam, the previous three movements have made this world of unrelenting intensity seem almost normal. That's when Schumann throws one of his patented curve balls, freezing you in mid-step with a sudden meditative oasis before picking up and running again.

And so it goes, we're off balance, even anxious, until Schumann gradually constructs a sturdy fugue, giving us, finally, solid ground under our feet. It's a exuberant culmination that, with all the preceding twists and turns, is anything but inevitable, and is therefore all the more rewarding in its intensity.

Personnel
  • André Laplante, piano
  • Elaine Marcil, violin
  • Annie Parent, viola
  • Ariane Lajoie, violin
  • Chantal Marcil, cello
[+] read more[-] less

More From Classical

Penguin Cafe performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 2, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Penguin Cafe

Penguin Cafe folds in sounds from around the world and throughout music history — Africa, Kraftwerk, Brazil and Franz Schubert.

Composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir revised her piece Aura especially for The Los Angeles Percussion Quartet. David Holechek hide caption

toggle caption David Holechek

All Songs TV

Anna Thorvaldsdottir's Volcanic Transmissions

As members of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet bow their vibraphones, brush their gongs and message their bass drums, the composer's evocative music oozes from blackness.

Ludovico Einaudi, performing live for KCRW. Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW hide caption

toggle caption Larry Hirshowitz/KCRW

Favorite Sessions

Ludovico Einaudi, 'Petricor' (Live)

KCRW

Watch the pianist and composer, joined by a full band, in a stunning live performance for KCRW.

Opera singer Joyce DiDonato created this video to go with her new album, In War and Peace: Harmony through Music. Warner Classics hide caption

toggle caption Warner Classics

Music

In Chaotic Times, A Singer's Plea For Freedom

Opera star Joyce DiDonato does more than sing — she lends her voice to social causes. Watch her new video, a haunting depiction of a woman trapped in conflict.

Gustavo Dudamel led the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra to open the new season of concerts at Carnegie Hall Thursday, Oct. 6. Chris Lee/Carnegie Hall hide caption

toggle caption Chris Lee/Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall Live

Gustavo Dudamel Opens Carnegie Hall Season With 'The Rite Of Spring'

WQXR radio

The charismatic conductor first heard Stravinsky's rambunctious music when he was just 8. Watch him lead the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela live on Thursday night.

A still from Maya Beiser's "Air" video. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

All Songs TV

First Watch: Maya Beiser, 'Air'

In a new video, the cellist plays with time and memory, turning back the clock to when she first heard J.S. Bach's music on a scratchy old LP. It remains, she says, a timeless lodestar for her art.

Yuja Wang played a demanding program at Carnegie Hall, topped by four encores. Ebru Yildiz/for NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ebru Yildiz/for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

Yuja Wang Plays Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Hear one of today's most charismatic pianists perform music with deep psychological — and physical — dimensions by Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms.

Yuja Wang Plays Carnegie Hall

Audio is no longer available

Conductor Mariss Jansons led the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall Wednesday in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad." AJ Wilhelm for NPR hide caption

toggle caption AJ Wilhelm for NPR

Carnegie Hall Live

The 'Leningrad' Symphony At Carnegie Hall

WQXR radio

Dmitri Shostakovich's powerful Seventh Symphony was written during the devastating World War II siege of Leningrad. Hear Mariss Jansons lead the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The 'Leningrad' Symphony At Carnegie Hall

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/474662768/475125195" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Back To Top