Quatuor Modigliani / Andrea Hill / Jean-Frédéric Neuburger

Brahms: Piano Quintet; Zwei Gesange, Op. 91

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Brahms' only Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, had a turbulent history before finally taking its rightful place as one of the composer's most sublime chamber works. The quintet began its life as a string quintet; pressure coming from Brahms' friends eventually saw the string quintet's score destroyed in place of a sonata for two pianos. Though Brahms was fond of this version, further suggestions found hard at work on a third and final change in instrumentation, which resulted in the work we know today. At only 31 years of age, the sophistication found in this score is nothing short of profound. Brahms varies the voicing to achieve a nearly symphonic sound on one end and a tenderly intimate chamber feeling on the other. Tackling this robust score is the Quatuor Modigliani joined by pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger on this Mirare album. Like Brahms at the time of composition, Modigliani is a young ensemble. Some of its choices -- particularly tempo selection in the Finale -- reflect the impetuousness of youth. But Brahms, too, was no less impulsive at the time, so perhaps the edgy, quick-paced, driven playing Modigliani and Neuburger bring is altogether appropriate here. The technical skills are highly refined, and the group is successful in capturing the meaty, full orchestral sound that Brahms relies on throughout the score. This disc also includes a less-often performed chamber work dating 20 years after the quintet: the Op. 91 Two Songs for mezzo soprano, viola, and piano. Andrea Hill's voice here is as rich and sultry as violist Laurent Marfaing. Together they offer listeners a moving, intimate reading of this overlooked example of Brahms' mature vocal writing.

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