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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Quintet in E flat major for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, KV452 (1784) [24:37]
Adagio in C minor and Rondeau in C major, KV617 (1791) [11:21]
(arranged by Michael Hasel for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon)
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Quintet in E flat major for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, Op.16 (1796) [23:24]
Stephen Hough (piano)
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet: (Michael Hasel (flute); Andreas Wittmann (oboe); Walter Seyfarth (clarinet); Fergus McWilliam (French horn); Henning Trog (bassoon))
rec. February 2000, Teldec Studio, Berlin, Germany (Mozart); December 2004, Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie Berlin, Germany (Beethoven). DDD
BIS-CD-1552 [60:26]


These Quintets for Piano and Winds are masterworks, although, the rather unusual scoring has meant that they are performed far less than their elevated quality deserves. The two Mozart scores have been released previously in 2000 on BIS-CD-1332 to considerable critical acclaim. Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds is a new release.

Mozart wrote several works for various combinations of wind ensemble and his three movement Quintet in E flat major for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, KV452 is a masterpiece of the genre. In 1784 following the successful premiere of the Quintet for Piano and Winds at the Burgtheater in Vienna the young Mozart wrote to his father Leopold stating, “I myself consider it to be the best thing I have written so far in my life”. 

One is immediately struck by how much the Quintet for Piano and Winds is like a miniature piano concerto but with wind accompaniment, although, one never seems aware of over-dominance by the piano. Also remarkable is the independence of the winds with occasional writing of a solo quality. Biographer Alec Hyatt King sums up the score succinctly by stating, “The work strikes a fine compromise between display and feeling”. In the opening movement pianist Stephen Hough and the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet provide wit and amiability with playing evocative of a warm summer’s day. This surely reflects a happy period in Mozart’s life. The central Larghetto is both poignant in expression and highly engaging. The expert players do not linger, instead adopting speeds that feel just perfect. The finale, Allegretto is given a brisk and vivacious interpretation. One notices that Beethoven’s generally light-hearted writing is thrown into sharper relief by some dark-tinged episodes. 

I remain an admirer of the well-performed account of the Quintet for Piano and Winds, KV452 from the Ensemble Villa Musica. On their recording made in 2001 at Bad Arolsen, Germany encountered some fierceness in the forte passages from both the horn and winds. However, the sound is of a decent quality with each instrument clearly audible. This is available on MDG 304 1183-2 (c/w Quintet for oboe and strings, KV370 and Adagio and Rondeau for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello, KV617).

Mozart’s Adagio in C minor and Rondeau in C major, KV617 was written in 1791 in Vienna for the rare combination of glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello. The blind glass harmonica player Marianne Kirchgassner had commissioned the score for a concert in 1791 but the instrument quickly lost its popularity and faded into obscurity. On this recording flautist Michael Hasel has made an arrangement for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon that should assist wider circulation in the chamber repertoire. 

The exceptional Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet and pianist Stephen Hough blend beautifully in this arrangement. They underline the rather melancholy character of the opening Adagio. The concluding Rondeau - Allegro, alla breve conveys a sunny quality and agreeable glow.

For those looking for a recording of the Adagio and Rondeau in the original version for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello, KV617 I can suggest the well performed account from Ensemble Villa Musica on MDG Gold. The sound has a slightly fierce edge in the forte passages from both the horn and winds. Otherwise the sound is of a high standard. The recording is available on MDG 304 1183-2 (c/w Quintet, KV452 and Quartet, KV370). The original version of the Adagio and Rondeau is an acquired taste and there will be many, myself included, that dislike the sound of the glass harmonica and fully understand the reasons for its demise.

Beethoven was undoubtedly familiar with Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds when he wrote his own Quintet in E flat major for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, Op.16 some twelve years later. The two works share several distinct similarities such as key selection and overall structure. The three movement score was composed in Berlin in 1796 during Beethoven’s only major tour as a concert pianist, evidently premiered in Vienna the next year and published in 1801. Owing to the great demand for his chamber music Beethoven made an arrangement for the standard piano quartet. 

The Bis version provides significant forward momentum in the extended opening movement, marked Grave - Allegro ma non troppo and there is ample opportunity for virtuoso piano display. I particularly enjoyed the relaxed and languid Andante cantabile, however, in the concluding Rondo the effervescent writing requires more spirited to do the work justice.

In Beethoven’s Quintet I am fond of the charmingly poised version from the Gaudier Ensemble with pianist Susan Tomes. The account was superbly recorded, being warm, clear and especially well balanced, from 2005 at the Henry Wood Hall, London. The disc is available on Hyperion CDA67526 (c/w Trio in B flat major for clarinet, cello and piano, Op. 11 and Serenade in D major for flute, violin and viola, Op. 25).

A popular alternative choice in both the Beethoven and Mozart Quintets for Piano and Winds are the assured, relaxed and lyrical accounts from the Vienna Wind Soloists and André Previn. These warm performances, recorded in the Schubertsalle, Vienna in 1985, provide decent clarity but are rather aggressive in the forte passages. The recording is available on Telarc Digital CD-80114.

On this BIS release I encountered the commonly experienced engineering difficulty with the balance of piano and winds. There is a rawness in the forte passages from both the horn and the winds that produced some blurring in the sound picture. Most positive was Hough’s Steinway D grand piano. It has an appealing creamy timbre and felt well balanced with the winds. The booklet notes are interesting yet explain very little about the three scores. There is enough room on the disc to have accommodated another work. 

This is an excellently performed and decently recorded release to which I can give a hearty recommendation. Lovers of Mozart and Beethoven chamber works will be in their element.

Michael Cookson


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