Chamber Music Raleigh brought the Marinus Ensemble to North Carolina to perform works by two of the great Romantics: Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. The program, held in the North Carolina Museum of Art‘s SECU Auditorium, was comprised of Schubert’s Notturno in E-flat, Schumann’s Märchenbilder, Op. 113, and Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47. Each piece had the ensemble increase in size, starting with Schumann’s viola and piano duet, Märchenbilder. This piece featured violinist Rachel Kuipers Yonan and pianist Kwan Yi. The SECU Auditorium suited the duo’s playing perfectly, as it allowed Yonan to bring out colors in the viola’s low register that I had never heard before. As for the music itself, it allowed Yonan and Yi to showcase their virtuosity, especially in the third movement. The duo also brought out intriguing, extremely convincing dynamic changes that could have fallen apart easily, but were handled masterfully. In Märchenbilder, which translates to “Fairy Tale Pictures,” Schumann actually did not give any specific fairy tale titles to the movements, which would have normally been expected of him. With this in mind, the duo did not strive to create concrete images in their performance, but instead they gave an interpretation that allowed the audience to form their own ideas, making it even more engaging.

The ensemble’s performance of Schubert’s Notturno featured violinist Kobi Malkin, cellist Joseph Kuipers,  and pianist Yi once again. Their performance illuminated Schubert’s gift for creating heart-wrenching melodies and dramatic harmonic progressions. His music was beautiful, but that does not mean that he made it easy for the performers. What was most impressive was the Marinus Ensemble’s composite sound in this piece, blending each instrument to perfection and creating one fluid unit of sound. Because they were so in sync, Malkin, Kuipers, and Yi were able to effortlessly highlight the contrasts Schubert put in the music between the lyrical, singing sections and the grand, regal sections that resembled a classic French overture. Like Märchenbilder, the intimacy of a hall like the SECU Auditorium greatly enhances a loving interpretation of a piece like the Notturno, and it made the trio’s performance thoroughly enjoyable.

The finale of the concert had all four performers join together for a performance of Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat – a piece marked by the distinctions between Schumann’s own coexisting introverted and extroverted personalities (named “Eusebius” and “Florestan,” respectively). The first movement of this piano quartet is a funny one, constantly building up drama that seems to lead to some sort of arrival, but an interjection or intrusive thought always changes the piece’s direction. There were a few times that I could not help but to laugh to myself. What I was most impressed by in this piece, though, was the Marinus’ performance of the second movement. Not only does each instrument have to play its own long, fast runs, but there are many times when multiple, or even all, players have to play those runs at the same time. Without proper execution, this will become a bit of a mess, especially because the notes are meant to be played short and separated. It must have been a painstaking process in rehearsal to match articulations, but the final product was incredible. The third movement also showed off the quartet’s strength as an ensemble, as they seamlessly passed the melody around amongst all four players, and it never got boring, nor did it sound the same twice. I will always love Schubert, but I have never been a big fan of Schumann. This excellent performance by the Marinus Ensemble, however, has inspired me to delve deeper into his chamber music to find more of his music I can relate to. That inspiration is one of the most important things a performer wants to provide to their listeners.