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Early romantic chamber music

[I] "Romantic Piano Quintets"
Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet
rec: May 11 - 15, 2003, Utrecht, Maria minora; Feb 20 - 22, 2006b, July 3 - 5, 2007c, Deventer, Doopsgezinde Kerk; July 5 - 7, 2009, Schiedam, Westvestkerkd
Brilliant Classics - 94377 (R) (4 CDs) (© 2012) (4.29'25")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Johann (John) Baptist CRAMER (1771-1858): Quintet in B flat, op. 79c; Jan Ladislaus DUSSEK (1760-1812): Quintet in f minor, op. 41 (C 172)b; Johann Nepumuk HUMMEL (1778-1837): Quintet in d minor, op. 74d; Quintet in E flat major/minor, op. 87b; Franz LIMMER (1808-1857): Quintet in d minor, op. 13a; George ONSLOW (1784-1853): Quintet in G, op. 76b; Quintet in b minor, op. 70d; Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838): Quintet in b minor, op. 74a; Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828): Quintet in A, op. 114 'Forellenquintett' (D 667)c

Riko Fukuda, fortepiano; Franc Polman, violin; Elisabeth Smalt, viola; Jan Insinger, cello; Peter Smithuijsen, double bass

[II] Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828): "Schubert at home"
Van Swieten Society
rec: Sept 2009 & Jan 2011, [n.p.]
Quintone - Q 11001 (72'47")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, song for soprano, clarinet and pianoforte (D 965)aci; Quartet for flute, viola, cello and guitar in D (D 96)befh; Quintet for pianoforte, violin, viola, cello and double bass in A, op. 114 'Forellenquintett' (D 667)defgi

Francine van der Heijden, sopranoa; Marion Moonen, fluteb; Frank van den Brink, clarinetc; Igor Ruhadze, violind; Bernadette Verhagen, violae; Job ter Haar, cellof; Maria Vahervuo, double bassg; Izhar Elias, guitarh; Bart van Oort, fortepianoi

If the word piano quintet is used, many music lovers immediately think of the famous Trout Quintet (Forellenquintett) by Schubert. Some may also be acquainted with the Quintet in E flat by Johann Nepomuk Hummel which is regularly performed and is available in various recordings. They share the scoring for pianoforte, violin, viola, cello and double bass. However, the form of the piano quintet in this particular scoring is not as uncommon as one may think. In her liner-notes to the recording of the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet Riko Fukuda writes that the ensemble has no less than 24 of such quintets in its repertoire which were written between 1799 and 1882. It was especially the second quarter of the 19th century that the piano quintet was popular.

The piano quintet has its origins in the second half of the 18th century, when the keyboard took a more prominent role in the instrumental ensemble. In most quintets it had the lead, with other instruments playing often a subordinate role. The scoring was varied, and could include a string quartet, but also wind instruments, such as the transverse flute and/or the oboe. After the turn of the century composers started to use the double bass instead of the second violin. In the 19th century the quintets with double bass outnumbered the quintets with the conventional string quartet. Most composers of piano quintets were virtuosic keyboard players which explains the dominant role and often technically demanding character of the pianoforte parts.

Between 2003 and 2009 the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet recorded nine quintets with double bass for Brilliant Classics which have been reissued as a set of four discs. It includes the best-known quintets which I mentioned above, but also a number which are hardly known. Even some composers are almost unknown quantities. The least known is certainly Franz Limmer who even has no entry in New Grove. He was born in Vienna where he studied the cello and the clarinet at the Conservatory. He also took lessons in harmony, composition and orchestration. At the age of 17 he composed a Mass which was performed to great acclaim. His early chamber music works also went down well with the critics. In 1834 he was appointed as conductor of the German opera in Temisoara (now Romania) which was a prosperous town at the time. He also became choirmaster of the cathedral and in this capacity he composed a number of sacred works. Although he was a cellist himself - he wrote chamber music for three and four cellos respectively - his Quintet in d minor, op. 13 is for pianoforte with accompaniment of strings.

Johann Baptist Cramer is also one of the lesser-known composers of the 19th century. He was the son of Wilhelm Cramer, one of the most brilliant violinists of his time and for a number of years a member of the famous court orchestra of Mannheim, where Johann Baptist also was born. Later Wilhelm travelled to Paris and London for performances as a soloist, and at the encouragement of Johann Christian Bach he decided to settle in London. As a result Johann Baptist's career started in the British capital. He studied the keyboard with Johann Samuel Schröter and then Muzio Clementi. As a soloist he made his debut in 1781 and soon travelled abroad to perform at various places on the continent. After the turn of the century he mainly performed in England, and in 1813 he was one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society.

One of the features of musical life in the early half of the 19th century, when most of the music on these discs was written, is the frequent travelling of virtuosos, including most composers of these piano quintets. That is also interesting in regard to performance practice, in particular the choice of the keyboard. The pianoforte developed quite fast in that period, and there was also a competition between pianofortes with Viennese action and instruments with English action. These are quite different which strongly affects the interpretation. One of the notable aspects of the recordings of the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet is that for every quintet Riko Fukuda has chosen the historically most appropriate instrument. In the case of the earliest work in the set, the Quintet in f minor, op. 41 by Jan Ladislav Dussek, she chose a fortepiano by Kirckman (London, 1798); this quintet was first performed at the King's Theatre in 1799. Dussek was a strong advocate of instruments with English action and promoted them after his departure from England. One could argue that music for or with pianoforte was often published and therefore probably performed at various instruments. The Quintet in B flat, op. 79 by Cramer, for instance, is played here on a Clementi fortepiano from 1828. However, as this piece was also printed it is quite likely that it was played at the continent, probably also with pianofortes with Viennese action. Even so, this scrupulous choice of instruments deserves nothing but praise, especially as so many keyboard players seem not to care very much about which instrument(s) they use. Too often they, for instance, play all keyboard music by Mozart at a copy of 'the' Walter of 1795, which is certainly not the most suitable instrument for his oeuvre.

Bart van Oort, in the recording of Schubert's quintet by the Van Swieten Society, plays a fortepiano by Zierer from around 1830. Considering the dates of composition of the quintet (1819) and the song Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (1828) that is probably not too much of a problem. Even so, a somewhat earlier instrument has to be preferred. The playing of Schubert's quintet is fine in both recordings. I slightly prefer the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet as far as the keyboard part is concerned. Riko Fukuda's articulation is a little sharper and her dynamic accents are more pronounced. The strings of her ensemble use a little more vibrato than those of the Van Swieten Society. Personally I prefer the latter, but historically the former may be more appropriate. These two recordings are hardly competitive as the Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet performs a number of quintets which are hardly known but deserve to be performed and heard. They are very strong advocates of this repertoire and every lover of early romantic chamber music wouldn't want to miss this set.

Moreover, the Van Swieten Society's recording includes a rather curious piece of chamber music by Schubert, the Quartet in G (D 96) for flute, viola, cello and guitar. It dates from 1814 and is Schubert's arrangement of a Notturno for flute, viola and guitar by Wenzel Matiegka. Schubert's arrangement especially concerns the addition of a virtuosic part for the cello. The autograph turned up in 1918 and was edited by the musicologist Georg Kinsky in 1926, and again in 1931 in a revised edition. This edition is mostly used for performances and recordings. Here the artists have restored the piece according to Schubert's intentions: he kept two of Matiegka's variations which were omitted in Kinsky's edition. The fifth variation is incomplete; rather than use Kinsky's completion Job ter Haar and Izhar Elias have made their own edition of this variation. This quartet receives an excellent performance here.

I am less impressed by the performance of Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, one of Schubert's most famous songs. It is a most rewarding piece for clarinettists, and their part probably attracts most attention. This part is excellently played here by Frank van den Brink on a copy of a Grenser clarinet. Francine van der Heijden sings the vocal part alright, but I have heard more compelling interpretations. Moreover, I don't like her incessant, although not very wide, vibrato. Especially disappointing is the fact that the text is very hard to understand. Even so, the recording by the Van Swieten Society can be recommended, especially for the quartet with guitar.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Riko Fukuda
Van Swieten Society

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