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Georgy CATOIRE (1861-1926)
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 28 (1914) [24:21]
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1946)
Piano Quintet in C minor (1918) [36:58]
Andreas Brantelid (cello); Bengt Forsberg (piano); Ulf Forsberg (violin)); Ellen Nisbeth (viola); Nils-Erik Sparf (violin)
rec. 2017, Allhelgonakyrkan, Stockholm, Sweden
BIS BIS-2314 SACD [62:08]

Neither the music of Catoire or Friedman is, in contemporary terms, the stuff of mainstream choice. Friedman is known primarily as a piano lion. There are no fewer than four volumes of his playing on Naxos (review ~ review ~ review ~ review) and at least two Grand Piano discs showcase his own compositions (original works ~ transcriptions). As for Catoire, as a composer, he has done quite well and no doubt benefited from Oistrakh’s enthusiastic proselytising. The violin sonatas have been out there on Avie for quite some time as has the Piano Quintet on Aliud. His piano music has been taken up by Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion and the fine Symphony can be heard in company with the one by Blumenfeld on Dutton. The works of these two figures share a murky hinterland with the music of Medtner, Bortkiewicz, Bowen (Dutton 1; Dutton 2; Hyperion) and Dobrowen. Another chance to re-assess.

These two decidedly late-romantic piano quintets are from either end of the Great War. The Catoire is economical in proportion - only 25 minutes across three movements - but densely textured. Lines crowd together and one wonders whether the gouache of sound had its effect on the similar signature of Medtner’s later Piano Quintet. It too has an exultant stamp and the foliage is just as closely woven. The finale of the Catoire with its glinting piano part exultantly breasts the tempest of activity in a way that also parallels the piano quintets by Bax (a breathtaking performance from the Take 5 Quintet on YouTube at the moment) and Giannini. If occasionally you struggle to see the forest for the trees then that’s all part of what Catoire must be taken to have intended. There’s little to choose between this version of the Piano Quintet and the one on Aliud. This one couples the work with the unknown Friedman while Aliud harnesses the Quintet with other chamber works.

Friedman’s furiously active Piano Quintet in C minor is also in three movements. Its violent energy contrasts with gentle melodic passages that have something of the salon about them as you might expect from this composer. The overall effect of the work is stirring, epic, high voltage and on occasion subtle. There’s colossal concentration there but contrasted with lighter episodes. This parallels Joseph Holbrooke who contrasted romantic supremacy in his chamber music with ideas boasting music-hall roots. Friedman’s choices are always discriminating and musical. He ends his quintet in gentle sotto voce supplication rather than in screaming gales of sound. There is a Friedman Piano Concerto. How long before we hear that?

Full factual delivery is provided by a liner-essay the author of which is Jean-Pascal Vachon. The challenging sound of a piano quintet in ‘relaxation’ and at full tilt is adeptly handled by Marion Schwebel and Robert Suff. It’s all done to the highest musical standard by Bis.

Ready to extend your repertoire of high tension late-romantic piano quintets? If so, this will please and broaden your cultural horizons.

Rob Barnett



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