P Scharwenka

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COMPOSERS: P Scharwenka
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: String Quartets, Opp. 117 & 120; Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 118
PERFORMER: Thomas Duis (piano); Mannheim String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 336 0889-2
Like his more famous brother Xaver, Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) was a bastion of the Berlin music establishment during the turn of the century and the years leading up to the First World War. One can well imagine the dismay with which this essentially Mendelssohnian composer greeted the products of such figures as Richard Strauss, Reger and Schoenberg as they groped further and further away from the realms of traditional tonality. Yet it would be a mistake to write off Scharwenka simply because his music was hopelessly outmoded for its day. The two string quartets featured here and dating from the early 1900s are immensely fluent works, superbly written for the medium and brimming with strong, if not especially original ideas that are subjected to subtle manipulation and transformation. In terms of harmony and texture, Scharwenka recalls Mendelssohn and Schumann rather than later 19th-century composers, though there are the occasional passages of quirky dissonances (for example in the opening movement of the Op. 120 Quartet) that suggest a more exploratory approach than one might have expected. On initial acquaintance the Piano Quintet seems to be marginally less assured and thematically distinctive than the quartets. But with nearly 80 minutes’ worth of music and marvellously committed performances of all three works, the release certainly whets the appetite to hear more from this neglected composer. Erik Levi