WORKS: Piano Quintet in G minor; String Quartet in D minor (Voces Intimae)
PERFORMER: Coull Quartet, Martin Roscoe (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 096
Sibelius’s early and discarded G minor Piano Quintet deserves more than one recording. While the level of formal integration is a long way short of the greatest symphonies – or indeed Voces Intimae – it’s still a strikingly individual piece by a young composer who is clearly well on his way to finding his voice.
Contrary to what some critics have said, it isn’t all misplaced orchestral music: Sibelius does have a feeling for the piano quintet medium, and is admirably independent of any of the leading models (Schumann, Brahms, Franck) from the start.
Yet there are passages that cry out for Sibelius’s orchestral sound, not just to add power but to enliven and enrich the textures. Martin Roscoe and the Coull Quartet take it seriously as chamber music, as they should, but some of the more massive climaxes are underwhelming, a failing which Anthony Goldstone and the Gabrieli Quartet manage to avoid (the intimate and wide-ranging Chandos recording helps).
And although the Coulls demonstrate well enough what a coherently and originally argued work the mature Voces Intimae Quartet is, including a lovely rendition of the feather-light second movement, they fall some way short of the Gabrieli’s Troll-like energy in the Scherzo; nor is there anything like the expressive penetration in the Adagio.
In the Gabrieli version one can sense the closeness in spirit to the nearly contemporary Fourth Symphony, even if the inspiration is more nostalgic than nightmarish. That’s still the one to have. Stephen Johnson