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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Wilhelm FURTWÄNGLER (1886-1954)
Piano Quintet in C major (1935)
François Kerdoncuff (piano)
Quatuor Sine Nomine
rec. Salle de Châtonneyre, CH-Corseaux, 17/20 May 1993
TIMPANI 1C1018 [66.16]
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This Furtwängler Quintet is a bigger work than either of the far from inconsiderable violin sonatas that have been recorded on Timpani. It plays for over 66 minutes. This represents three movements each over twenty minutes in length. It dates from the year in which political change drove him from various artistic posts and time stretched before him in which to pursue his first avocation - composition. In the same year he also wrote the First Violin Sonata. Both violin sonatas were referred to by the composer as being symphonies manqué. This work too is of symphonic bearing and in 1937 he was to take a step forward with the Symphonic-Concerto for piano and orchestra - his first use of the ‘symphonic’ stem in a title. Between 1941 and 1954 he wrote his three symphonies (recorded on Marco Polo).

Though completed in 1935 the quintet had been maturing since 1915. It is interesting to note that the piano does not have a role more prominent than the other instruments. Furtwängler uses the quintet as if it is an orchestra and it is no surprise to hear that he was at the same time working on the score of the Symphonic-Concerto. This is no tired, routine or rough play-through. The work trembles with darkened romantic geist - not specifically Teutonic either. The Piano Quintets of Vierne, Fauré, Bax and Schmitt all have points of resemblance though none have the heavenly length of the Furtwängler work. By the way, while the Quintet is of Brucknerian proportions it has no other like qualities. It does not sound anything like Bruckner. If anything it sounds as if it is built on a Brahmsian bedrock but the structure and ideas (often of the very highest quality) are rattlingly good. Time to think again if you have already consigned this music to the bin-liner of 'conductor's music' along with the symphonies of Rankl and Klemperer. Doubts should be completely dispelled by the solo violin of Patrick Genet in the last three minutes of the adagio and by the Brahmsian show-time liberation of the pecked piano theme at 10.23 in the finale. The whirlwind shakes the branches and subsides then returns with impetuosity and with that almost jazzy Sondheim-staccato idea from the first section of the movement. This accelerating syncopation is worthy of Walton.

So is this is the music of the bullet-smooth dolichocephalic conductor of the post-war era. Well yes up to a point. However these works (sonatas and quintet) pre-date the Second World War and speak more often than not of then contemporary uncertainties and of actual and impending nightmares. This was a composer who could not only think in and sustain great paragraphs but also demonstrated a fecund melodic imagination.

Rob Barnett

 



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