Catoire, Friedman: Piano Quintets (SACD)

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Bengt Forsberg, Nils-Erik Sparf, Ulf Forsberg, Ellen Nisbeth, Andreas Brantelid

With his Op. 44 quintet from 1842, Robert Schumann transformed the constellation of piano and string quartet from one that just served as a showcase for the pianist into a true chamber ensemble. Following his example, Brahms and Dvoƙák produced their own masterly quintets, and during the 20th century composers as diverse as Elgar, Fauré and Shostakovich added to the short list of piano quintets that get regular performances. On the rather longer list of rarely heard quintets we find those recorded here, by pianist Bengt Forsberg and a quartet of some of Sweden's finest string players. Both works were composed during the 1910s, and straddle in different ways the divide between postromanticism and modernism.

Of French descent, the Russian composer Georgy Catoire studied the piano in Moscow as well as Berlin and it is primarily his piano music that is heard today. With its original use of harmony and inventive rhythmic structure, the quintet is nevertheless one of the most seductive works in Catoire’s output. Although better known than Catoire, Polish-born Ignaz Friedman is famous not for his compositions but as one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, admired by Rachmaninov as well as Horowitz. Written in 1918, his Quintet in C minor is tuneful, but also dramatic, sombre and melancholy at turns. This may be a reflection of the ongoing war, but it has also been suggested that it was inspired by the death of Friedman’s father, an itinerant Jewish musician, and that the theme of the third movement, derived from Polish folk music, may be a tribute to him.

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Georgy Catoire (1861–1926)
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 28
1) I. Allegro moderato 
2) II. Andante 
3) III. Allegro con spirito e capriccioso

Ignaz Friedman (1882–1948)
Piano Quintet in C minor (1918) 
4) I. Allegro maestoso 
5) II. Larghetto, con somma espressione 
6) III. Epilogue. Allegretto semplice

Bengt Forsberg (piano), Nils-Erik Sparf (violin I), Ulf Forsberg (violin II), Ellen Nisbeth (viola), Andreas Brantelid (cello)


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Nineteenth-century Russian musical history is replete with virtuoso pianists, from Balakirev to Rachmaninov. One of the most startlingly accomplished even amongst this amazing crew was Gregory Catoire, whose teachers included a friend of Wagner, Klindworth, as well as Rimsky-Korsakov and Lyadov. His highly romantic music is still not well known, but on the strength of the chamber works it is bound to gain in reputation. Ignaz Friedman is even less well known as a composer (although the Sydney Conservatorium still offers an Ignaz Friedman Prize for composition) whereas his reputation as a pianist is colossal—he was compared in his lifetime with Lhevinne, Hofmann, and Godowsky. His music is as you might expect very conservative, in the great nineteenth-century tradition. These are both very substantial works and should appeal to anyone who likes ambitious and accomplished high romanticism.

- Chris Dench, The Classical Music Collector