MDG, the German-based record label continues to champion lesser-known works
from eminent composers; in this case from the pen of Richard Strauss. Three
of these five piano quartet scores emanate from Straussís early years and
prove to be more than mere off-cuts from the masterís workbench.
the guidance of his teacher, the conductor Friedrich Wilhelm Meyer, Strauss
spent the early part of the 1880s working his way up from two instrument
sonatas through to his first symphony. Strauss liked to write chamber scores
and songs for performance at family get-togethers, celebrations and musical
evenings at home, where he would play either the violin or the piano. It
would seem likely that all the works on this release were intended for domestic
use; rather like a Straussian equivalent of a Schubertiade.
The first work on the disc,
the Piano Quartet, Op.13 is the most substantial, lasting almost forty
minutes. The score is one of the young Straussís major works and like the
String Quartet, Op. 2, the Piano Sonata, Op. 5 and the Violin Concerto, Op.
8 it is the only work of its type that he was to write. The date of composition
is only conjecture, having been composed for the Berlin Composersí Guild
competition, and winning the 300 mark prize. The site www.richard-strauss.com gives
the date as 1883-84, although Trennerís catalogue of works puts the date
of completion as 1 January 1885. It is not in doubt that the C minor score
was premiŤred in December 1885 and published shortly afterwards. The Piano
Quartet comes from the short but intense period that Strauss described as
his, ďBrahms fervourĒ, whose music was strongly influencing him at
that time. Despite the pervasive influence of Brahms, Strauss displays considerable
originality and talent in the complexity and thorough nature of this composition.
Unlike some of his other works for smaller ensembles, the Piano Quartet was
clearly an ambitious effort at creating a serious chamber piece. Strauss
was patently fond of the score. As late as 1921, whilst on his second American
tour, he was still performing it in recitals.
In four movements, the Piano
Quartet follows the conventional model. The Brahmsian influence is most strongly
shown in the opening allegro, with its unison opening passage, rich
instrumentation and sonata form. The movement is vigorous in manner with
a dramatic climax. The effervescent second movement scherzo, presto is
presented in three sections which again shows the influence of Brahms, both
in form and rhythm. The emotional core of the work is an expansively lyrical
slow movement containing an astonishingly broad-arching melody. Drawing on
themes from the first movement Strauss in the andante uses all the
hallmarks of romantic sentimentality. The closing movement follows the same
pattern as the opening allegro, where a less dramatic section is followed
by a build-up that leads to a rousing ending. Both the sophisticated outer
movements are technically complex and multi-layered in their conception in
which Strauss provided a surfeit of themes and constantly inserted development
sections. The admirable Mozart Piano Quartet extract every ounce of splendour
and enthusiasm from the score. With perception and intelligence the players
balance the lyricism of the andante with the vigour and rhythmic complexities
of the swifter movements.
The four shorter works for piano
quartet were intended for Straussís domestic music-making. Both the Stšndchen from
1881 and the Festmarsch from three years later were played at a Strauss
family celebration. In view of their use by amateur family performers it
is not surprising that neither of the scores are especially complex or sophisticated,
although assertive themes dominate throughout. The enthusiasm and integrity
that the players convey when they expertly perform the Stšndchen and
the Festmarsch could easily convince one to think that they were the
most important scores ever written.
The largely uncomplicated Liebesliedchen and Arabischer
Tanz never betray the fact that by 1893 Strauss, a self-confessed Wagnerite,
had now completed his first opera Guntram and written the revolutionary
tone-poems Macbeth, Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration.
The Mozart Piano Quartet play these two scores with consummate ease and
considerable panache. The players are especially impressive in the wild
fury of the short Arabischer Tanz.
The Mozart Piano Quartet are
specialists in Romantic chamber music repertoire and their playing is exemplary
throughout. I found the sound engineers have provided an agreeable warmth
and amplitude. The annotation is interesting and informative. My only qualm
is the relatively short playing time of fifty-six minutes.
A marvellously performed release
that will surely win these Strauss chamber scores many admirers.