Wednesday, 21 December 2016

CD Review (The Straits Times, December 2016)

Piano Quintets
with Szymanowski Quartet
Hyperion 68124 / *****

Two of music's greatest piano quintets are the sole examples by Johannes Brahms and Cesar Franck, both of which play for about 40 minutes. 

Casting the net wider for quintets of this stature, one will eventually stumble upon these virtually unknown and unjustly neglected works by the Poles Ludomir Rozycki (1883-1953) and Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948). Both piano quintets are in three movements and cast in C minor, the key of unbridled pathos and unrelieved angst.

The Rozycki (1913) typifies the late Romantic era, with broad melodies not dissimilar to those of Brahms, Faure and Richard Strauss, but tinged with the Slavic melancholy of Tchaikovsky and the young Rachmaninov. The slow movement is itself a portrait of gloom, only dispelled by a finale of animation and levity. The Friedman (1918) is slightly shorter, and has a veneer of Viennese charm over and above a bed-rock of pensiveness and rumination.

Are these undiscovered masterpieces? British pianist Jonathan Plowright and the Polish Szymanowski quartet perform with passion and authority, lifting these beyond salon superficialities and obscurity into the realm of established true classics.   

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