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SCHUMANN // 3 Quartets op. 41

Quatuor Hermès,



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The record catalogues have been less generous with the three Schumann quartets than with anything else in the Romantic repertory. Ever since the album by the Cherubini Quartet, and despite the ardent performance of the Ysaÿe, we have waited in vain for these three quartets gathered under a single opus number to find their saviour among the younger formations.
Who was going to rediscover them? The Modigliani Quartet, the Ébène, the Artemis? Finally it is the four talented members of the Quatuor Hermès who have chosen them to inaugurate their collaboration with La Dolce Volta.
There is no point in beating about the bush: quite simply, their interpretation is revelatory.

While the musicologists agree that the Third Quartet is a masterpiece, the first two are generally played in its shadow, sacrificed on the altar of a certain formalism. But their sense of discourse bursts forth in the hands of the Hermès, from the classical A minor quartet, in which Schumann seems to wish to sum up the golden age of the early Romantic string quartet, to the bold strokes of harmony that give the A major work its sombre colouring and its adventurous tone, by way of what constitutes in our opinion the highlight of this disc, their lyrical, one is almost tempted to say vocal reading of the Quartet in F major.
Here the memory of Mendelssohn gives Schumann’s ideas wings: everything sings passionately in golden modulations which the Quatuor Hermès underline with sensual pleasure, yet without ever forgetting the line that lies behind the polyphonic web, nor the emotion inherent in the work.

One admires the equilibrium of the timbres, the tenderness of the dialogues, the unshowy virtuosity of a blazing Allegro molto finale, that truly chamber musical plenitude whose warm grain is perfectly captured by a natural balance. It is so rare for a sound recording of a quartet – the second biggest headache for sound engineers after the solo piano – to be a genuine success that one has a duty to single it out for mention.

Supported by these attentive microphones, the young musicians plunge into the complex mysteries of the Third Quartet, emphasising right from the Andante espressivo the suspensions of this music in which silences and abrupt changes of mood point to the chinks in the composer’s mental armour. Suddenly, Schumann was thinking only of Beethoven. And this is the very first time that seemingly obvious point has been embodied with such eloquence.


String Quartet in A minor, op.41/1

  • Introduzione 8’46
  • Scherzo 3’40
  • Adagio 6’10
  • Presto 5’58



String Quartet in F major, op.41/2


  • Allegro vivace 6’00
  • Andante quasi variazioni 8’22
  • Scherzo 2’56
  • Finale 4’19



String Quartet in A major, op.41/3


  • Andante espressivo 7’01
  • Assai agitato 6’35
  • Adagio molto 7’51
  • Finale 6’49




What leaps out at me when I listen to these performances is the warmth, intimacy and commitment of these young players. They have an instinctive feel for these quartets and are able to engage with the narrative of the music, effectively conveying the wealth of emotions contained therein. Joy, sadness, exuberance and introspection – it’s all there. Tempo choices, dynamic range and phrasing are all judiciously chosen. Intonation and ensemble is immaculate. Clarity of texture and line is at all times achieved. The slow movements are eloquent, expressive and intensely lyrical and realized with poetic engagement. The fast movements are vigorous, dazzlingly virtuosic and rhythmically propulsive. The recorded sound couldn’t be bettered. I can think of no better advocates for this sadly misunderstood music.

On the evidence of this Schumann recording I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to hear much more from this accomplished ensemble.

The Quatuor Hermès, named after the famous messenger of the gods in Greek mythology, draws its musical force from its role as a go-between linking the composer’s text with the audience’s sensibility. The musicians have also established this identity through their travels around the world. Carnegie Hall in New York, the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing and Wigmore Hall in London are among the venues that have made the greatest impression on them. The quartet also performs at major international festivals.

The group’s original line-up came together in 2008 at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon, where the four musicians studied with the members of the Quatuor Ravel. They went on to enrich their experience with such outstanding personalities as the Quatuor Ysaÿe, the Artemis Quartett, Eberhard Feltz, and later Alfred Brendel, an immense inspiration with whom they still work regularly today. Open to a wide range of repertory, they regularly share the concert platform with illustrious musicians, among them Yo-Yo Ma, Nicholas Angelich, Gregor Sigl, Pavel Kolesnikov, Kim Kashkashian, Anne Gastinel, and the Ébène and Auryn quartets.

The Quatuor Hermès has won numerous first prizes, notably at the Geneva Competition and the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York. It receives the support of the Fondation Banque Populaire. After being quartet in residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Brussels from 2012 to 2016, it has been associate quartet with the Fondation Singer-Polignac in Paris since 2019.

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