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Clarinet Quintet


Piano Quintet/


Prelude to Capriccio

Amadeus Quartet Gervase de Peyer Clifford Curzon Cecil Aronowitz William Pleeth
Recorded 1966/1960/1971
BBC Legends BBCL 4061-2 [76.31]

How sorely the Amadeus Quartet and the Everest-high standards they set are missed, and the compulsive listening to anything unlocked from this treasure trove could not be highlighted more than by the miraculous playing on this disc. The creamily elegant tones of de Peyer, his blending with those expert Mozartians and the lovingly stylish phrasing of all five musicians (an example of which is the superb Trio) makes one envy all those fortunate to have been present in Aldeburgh thirty-five years ago, despite the occasional intrusion of their summer coughs. The sound of the late and lamented Schidlof's viola playing in the variation movement (finale) underscores his self-effacing genius (has he really been gone thirteen years already?) while the virtuosity of de Peyer serves to remind us that Anton Stadler (for whom Mozart wrote not only this Quintet but also the Concerto) must have been a remarkable clarinettist.

The Amadeus already make a memorable appearance with Curzon in the Brahms and Schubert ('Trout') Quintets on the double cd BBCL 4009-2, while Curzon is rightly given one to himself as solo pianist with Boulez conducting the BBCSO in Beethoven's 'Emperor' and Mozart's 'Coronation' concertos on BBCL 4020-2. Curzon, as indeed all the other 'extras' on this disc, was a favoured artist by the Amadeus. This account of the Franck Quintet gets straight to the heart of the 'Sturm und Drang', or the romantic drama, of the music, from the very opening. It might be churlish to criticise the Amadeus for being over-refined and polished in their playing (a reputation which most string quartets would die for) but in this (if occasionally blemished) performance from the Aldeburgh Festivl in June 1960 they throw caution to the winds with the often initially nervous Curzon showing no sign of it on this occasion, and all five players rising to a thrilling climax towards the end of the opening Allegro. The ruminative and brooding Lento builds to an intensity of sound textures which occasionally give the impression one is listening to a full string section rather than four players, Curzon takes more of a supporting role here, and the Quartet's tonal colours and dynamic range continue to know no limits. The Finale is given an electrifying start but then manages to draw on even more reserves of speed. Balance between the group alternates amongst the members with finely judged skill, the ear logically drawn to whoever is leading the musical thought right up to the spiritedly exciting conclusion. This is indeed a marriage of true minds, and reveals the essence at the heart of real chamber music playing.

Aronowitz and Pleeth join for the Sextet which opens Strauss' opera Capriccio (an introduction which should really be heard from afar, i.e. offstage from the wings of an opera house) recorded at London's QEH in May 1971. The opera's argument is the oft-disputed pre-eminence of words over music or vice versa, but this performance should settle it once and for all, though to be fair to disadvantaged wordsmiths, there are no words in this purely instrumental introduction. All the players blend magnificently in a richly tapestried account of a late work heading unmistakeably towards the composer's Indian summer which produced the Four Last Songs.

May the Amadeus Quartet, that quintessentially British foursome of whom only one was actually British, continue to be heard in this legendary series.

Christopher Fifield

Performance *****

Recording ****

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