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Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896)
String Quintet in f (original 1878 version) [43.04]
Franz SCHMIDT (1874 - 1939)

Piano Quintet in G (1926, arr. Wührer) [33.43]
Vienna Philharmonia Quintet: Wolfgang Poduschka, Alfred Staar, vv; Josef Staar, Helmut Weis (Bruckner only), vlas; Wolfgang Herzer, vc; Eduard Mrazek, piano (Schmidt only)
Recorded in the Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, April 1974 ADD
Notes in English.
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 2455 [76.49]

Whether all geniuses are crazy has not been established, but we definitely know that some geniuses are crazier than others. Whether religion is madness or not ó the Greeks warned that at least too much religion was madness ó we definitely know that some people are more religious than others.

What turns most people off to the symphonies of Bruckner is that he was crazy with religion and if you canít appreciate that, if you are unfamiliar with spiritual orgasm, then his music seems to be ungainly, ugly, noisy, pointless. Bruckner is so much more spiritual than Wagner that Wagner in direct comparison sounds more like [Johann] Strauss. Bruckner perfected the art of stopping exactly at the point of "if he plays that one more time Iíll scream." However if you are susceptible to spiritual orgasm, even from an artist practising a faith not your own, then the Bruckner Seventh Symphony is one of your very favorite works and even the Ninth Symphony seems too brief. Sober, well-adjusted conductors canít make any sense out of either work whereas, with Bruckner, Carlo Maria Giulini is in his glory.

So, what is Bruckner doing writing chamber music? Proving that he was, in addition to being a musical prophet, a capable musical craftsman? It seems so. Just before beginning work on his Sixth Symphony, Bruckner wrote this quintet at the request of Joseph Hellmesberger for his eponymous quartet. Eventually, Bruckner provided a simplified scherzo at the request of the dedicatee, but these ĎViennersí play the original version in this recording. Both works are in the classic four movement form. How these artists get away with naming themselves just one letter and one number different from the famous Vienna Philharmonic Quartet I canít explain. Bruckner did not acknowledge his String Quartet of 1862, hence officially this quintet is the only chamber work he ever wrote. You might be startled to read in your Winter 1995/6 Schwann catalog that Bruckner wrote two violin sonatas; however, this is a misprint; the Busoni sonatas are intended instead.

You might expect at least some of Brucknerís quintet writing to have an "orchestral" sound to it, complete with the chromatic steps, repetitions and long crescendos for which he was famous; and youíd be right. But you might be surprised to hear sections which have a "concerto grosso" sound, where a group of solo instruments are accompanied by the remaining ones. Makes one wish Bruckner had written a double concerto for violins. The uncredited annotator uses the words "beautiful" and "sublime" to describe the adagio, and I canít think of better ones; the performance is deeply affecting. In the final movement this group interpret lebhaft bewegt to be more of an andante maestoso emphasizing the symphonic cast of the music. If you love Bruckner you must have this work, and if you donít like Bruckner, you ought to listen to this work because it might change your mind.

The word on Franz Schmidt is that if you didnít grow up in Vienna, you are incapable of liking his music and if you did grow up in Vienna you rank him among the very greatest. This conundrum has prevented most people from ever even hearing any of the music until recently. This quartet was originally written for Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right hand in WWI, but the present arrangement by Friedrich Wührer is for normally equipped pianists.

The Schmidt Piano Quartet begins with a burst of [Richard] Straussian harmonies in a bright and lively style, blowing the moodiness of the Bruckner right out the window. You want to nominate Schmidt to be the seventh member of "Les Six" showing that Paris and Vienna were not that far apart in 1926. Parts of the work are pure Debussy, other places we are reminded of Mendelssohn or even díIndy. The piano part has not completely shed its one-handed sound, showing that Herr Wührerís emendations were very conservative. If you have a friend who says Schmidt is "too heavy" play her this recording.

Be careful not to confuse Franz Schmidt with Ole or William Schmidt, Florent Schmitt, Erich or Heinrich Kaspar Schmid, Othmar Schoek, or Alfred Schnittke. Got all of that?

Excellent performances and recordings of two very worthwhile but unfamiliar works. As on most of these Eloquence pressings, the sound is exceptional, at its best approaching SACD quality.

Paul Shoemaker

 

 



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