Coull Quartet / Martin Roscoe

Sibelius: Piano Quintet in G minor; String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56

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The unusual item on this all-Sibelius disc by Britain's Coull Quartet is the Piano Quintet in G minor, JS 159, composed in 1890 when Sibelius was 25. Sibelius developed slowly as a composer, and he was still a student at this point. He later rejected the work as "absolute rubbish," and many listeners will come in somewhere between that evaluation and annotator Christopher Morley's description of the piece as "astonishing." In reality it's something like a preparatory chamber version of the big early Sibelius orchestral works like En Saga, Op. 9, anticipating both the composer's popular Scandinavian kitsch mode in the Intermezzo: Moderato second movement and the gigantic scope of some of his early mature works. The quintet is quite difficult to perform, and after hearing the outer movements it will not come as a surprise to learn that none other than Ferruccio Busoni was the pianist at the premiere, but pianist Martin Roscoe does not have to sweat. They stretch both piano and strings to the limit in large, symphonic textures. The Coull Quartet's performance of the better-known and grimly serious String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56, "Voces intimae," is very strong, letting the strenuous counterpoint carry the music's emotional load rather than laying on the Ingmar Bergman quality. Either performance might be of interest to Sibelius lovers; both together makes the album a good cornerstone for a collection of the composer's smaller music. The usually sonically excellent small British label Somm errs in recording this chamber music in a large church, but at least the String Quartet in D minor takes on a nice chilly quality. Booklet notes are in English and French.

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