Schubert sonatas

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Piano solo and duet
  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 5 (1853) [22:38]
Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 6 (1857) [28:20]
Vienna Philharmonia Quintet
rec. Sofiensaal, Vienna, September 1973. ADD
EXPLORE EXP0003 [51:11]

Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 5 (1853) [22:38]
Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 6 (1857) [28:20]
Vienna Philharmonia Quintet
rec. Sofiensaal, Vienna, September 1973. ADD
EXPLORE EXP0003 [51:11]

This is absolutely gorgeous music. Many people will already be familiar with the Berwald symphonies, but as Robert Layton quite rightly points out in his booklet notes, his chamber output remains little known.

These 1973 performances are "first international CD releases" and seem typical of the searching spirit of this label; there is some fantastic Messiaen from John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas in the same series, by the way. The low price of the discs in some way plays off the low playing time of the present issue.

The recording is lovely – warm and spacious. Further, the performances are intensely musical.

The first quintet’s Allegro molto has plenty of C minorish drama about it. It is clear that the group’s pianist, Eduard Mrazek, is a chamber player par excellence; his string companions react in kind. Producer Christopher Raeburn has ensured a class product, and the transfer to CD is indeed reminiscent of the sound of a good, warm LP. The Adagio quasi andante is a model of restrained intimacy. There is no scherzo in this work, so it is left to a mellifluous Allegro assai e con spirito to bring the work to a contented close. Mrazek’s staccato towards the end is something to delight in.

The A major quintet is dedicated to Liszt and possesses the full quota of four movements. It begins in a most un-A majorish way with a very determined gesture, almost angry in character. It is not long before the sun comes out, though. Once again Mrazek is the epitome of grace and charm while the beautifully balanced recording allow for full appreciation of Berwald’s lines. The mild imitative plays of the jovial second movement and the attractive Poco andante con grazia show Berwald’s exquisite taste. The players here seem at pains to emphasise the undercurrents of the slow movement. It is these hints of unrest that enable the determination of the finale to emerge naturally.

There is a direct Naxos rival to this issue which I must confess I have not heard (8.553970), but it does include two movements of a piano quintet in A, possibly intended for Op. 6. It is difficult to imagine more musical and more musically recorded accounts than the present ones, though.

Colin Clarke

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