Classical CD Reviews
BRAHMS: Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34b; SCHUMANN: Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44 (arr. Anon. for Two Pianos) – Duo Uriarte-Mrongovius, two pianos – Arts
Published on March 28, 2008
Recorded 13-15 November 2006 at the Radio National de Espana, Madrid, Spain, these exquisitely balanced recordings by the two-piano team and marriage partners Begona Uriarte and Karl-Hermann Mrongovius testify to a thorough command of their medium and the romantic style they address with shattering authority. The 1864 version of the Brahms piano quintet as a two-piano sonata, much in the manner if his idol, Schubert, has become standard fare in the salon and the concert hall. Our ears are compelled by both parts, equally. The sumptuous unisons and clashing polyphonies alternately delight and fascinate, as Brahms works out the first movement sonata-form through various modulations, especially on route to the recapitulation. The mighty coda simply carillons in one’s soul long after the last chord decays into space. Schubert’s song “Pause” provides inspirational fodder for the Andante that wants to be an Adagio. The two keyboards seem to merge into a brassy or pearly harmony, depending on the affect required. If ever the Scherzo deserved the epithet “Bismarckian,” surely the Duo Uriarte-Mrongovius instill a militant determinism worthy of the name. The opening of the last movement, given the two-piano medium, sets the angularly modal theme in a world close to Berg and Schoenberg. When the Schubertian riffs from the Grand Duo begin, they enjoy a percussively persuasive sonority that ingratiates as it advances to an inexorable march, presumably against Schumann’s philistines.
The publisher Breitkopf & Haertel brought out the two-piano reduction of Schumann’s E-flat Piano Quintet in in Leipzig, 1866. The strings parts had already appeared in this form as early as 1843, suggesting that Clara Schumann likely approved–perhaps even authorized–the format. Brahms made arrangements of Schumann quintets for Clara Schumann’s birthday, 13 September 1854. Could Brahms have been the anonymous author, living so close within the Schumann circle? At any event, the opening Allegro brillante sets an “orchestral” standard of sonority, the music now more in tune with the B-flat “Spring” Symphony. We can easily envision the Clara Schumann/Johannes Brahms duo’s exploring this gorgeous chamber work for the sheer delight in the many songs and fairytale marches (maerchen) it contains. Several of the dark modulations in the opening movement find direct echoes in the ‘funeral’ march second movement. The dry, almost pedal-less approach to the funereal largamente creates an eerie tension, quite palpable. The middle section, however, bathes us in romantic sentiment. The Scherzo waxes noting short of scintillating in its duo-piano form, the runs blazing, the syncopations insistent. A resounding crash and the finale is under way, each ritornello a bit more passionate than the last, eventually relishing the fugato in a style that makes us long to hear this team in Beethoven’s Op. 134 arrangement of his own Great Fugue.
Exciting from its outset, here is another disc for that short list that comprises our Best of the Year category.
– Gary Lemco