Brahms: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34

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WORKS: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34
PERFORMER: Andreas Staier (piano); Leipzig Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Gold 307 1218-2
I have been a firm admirer of the Leipzig Quartet’s previous recordings of Brahms and Schoenberg, and Andreas Staier is a Brahmsian of long standing, but I find myself underwhelmed by this account of the Piano Quintet (the disc is desperately short measure, too). MDG’s ‘natural concert hall acoustic’ is a little plummy and over-echoey for my taste. Though the playing is always excellent, there is something unfocused about the treatment of the first two movements. Staier is a pioneer of the use of the fortepiano in Brahms; here he seems to have a standard piano (if it’s a period piece nothing in the notes tells us so), but an approach conditioned by the older instrument may account for the rather small-scale impression he makes in these movements – whose expression is anything but small-scale. Things waken up considerably with the scherzo, which is very excitingly done – but any performance that cannot rouse the blood in this headlong rhythmic fusillade would not be worth consideration. The finale, with its complex architecture and frequent changes of gear, is eloquently sustained and effectively paced, the coda satisfyingly terse and furious. When all is said and done, and there is plenty of fine musicianship on offer here, this is hardly a version to displace the classic accounts of the past (Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet, Richter and the original Borodin, Curzon and the Amadeus, say), nor indeed my favoured contemporary readings, among which Elizo Virzaladze with the Borodin in its later line-up currently takes first place – a reading that has the continuous passion wedded to iron discipline that this tremendous work requires. Calum MacDonald