Review: Throwing Caution to the Wind

“Composed in 1843, Schumann’s pioneering work — the first major piece to combine piano and string quartet — remains one of the most commanding peaks of Romantic chamber music. Visiting and local ensembles have performed it several times hereabouts in recent years, always with a cautiousness that left too much of the music’s overflowing life on the page.

But this performance spread its wings and soared as I’ve never heard it before. The manic opening allegro, the giddy, propulsive scherzo and the bold finale were fleet, agile and seamless, compelling from first to last. In the funeral march, the repeating rhythmic pattern took on a death-rattle chill. Mr. Valkov’s crisp diction, deeply etched rhythms and brilliant technique contributed immeasurably to the results and perfectly complemented the string quartet’s taut precision and big, radiant sound. The whole came off as surprisingly contemporary, as if this 19th-century piece would have been just as much at home in Sam’s Burger Joint as in a traditional concert hall.”