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Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Music for violin, viola, cello and piano
Piano Quartet in C minor Op. 13 (c. 1883/84) [38.51]
Festmarsch, (1884) [05.31]
Stšndchen, (1881) [04.16]
Liebesliedchen, (1893) [05.07]
Arabischer Tanz, (1893) [01.24]
Mozart Piano Quartet: Paul Rivinius, piano; Mark Gothoni, violin; Hartmut Rohde, viola; Peter HŲrr, cello
rec. 29-30 January 2005, Furstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen, Germany. DDD

The 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.

Under 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 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.
Michael Cookson



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