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Johann Wilhelm WILMS (1772-1847)
Piano Quartet in F major, Op. 30 (1812) [30:27]
Piano Quartet in C major, Op. 22 (1808) [29:47]
Valentin Klavierquartett
rec. 2018, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin/Dahlem
CPO 555 247-2 [60:21]

CPO's annotator, Joachim Draheim, hears these piano quartets as inhabiting the orbit of Franz Danzi and Carl Maria von Weber. Well, maybe - though Wilms's music is more immediately appealing than Danzi's, and doesn't enter Weber's German-folk universe at all. In fact, the first music we hear - the Romantic introduction of the F major Quartet, with its searching melodies and vibrant chords - suggests Schubert, or, perhaps, a less neurasthenic Schumann.

Once past that introduction, the F major reverts to Classical models, though both the outer movements feature longer codas than expected: that of the first movement feints at a creative second-part repeat. The first theme is built from short, rigorously rhythmic motifs; the second is a lyrical chorale. The central Larghetto, with the piano's modified Alberti accompaniments, is steady and dignified, especially as the strings join in and then take over. The piano launches the closing, rondo-like Allegro with a literally light-fingered 6/8 - though the upper-midrange texture lacks vividness - and the movement stays relaxed as it builds.

Despite the earlier quartet's presumptive home key of C major, each movement ducks at least briefly into turbulent, Mozartean minor-key drama. The opening movement is gracious, in a Beethovenian way. At the start of the Adagio, the piano again sounds oddly muted; the Scherzando third movement is engaging. The finale, another rolling 6/8, begins flirting with hemiolas; after an emphatic cadence and a rather long pause, it resumes as a polonaise!

These quartets are beautiful - the melodies don't linger in the memory, but the moods do, which is something - and the Valentin Klavierquartett does them justice. The string players clearly see no need to sacrifice tonal richness in a Classical piece. Sustained chords are warm and full-bodied; elsewhere, their playing is incisive or yielding, as needed. The violinist is taxed by one set of upward gruppetti in the F major - the basic tempo was perhaps a smidge too fast - but is otherwise expert and sensitive, and I enjoyed the burnished tone of the other strings. The piano's deft, pingy articulations are a pleasure. The recording is excellent.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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