Brahms, Schubert: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34

COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schubert
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: BBC Legends
WORKS: Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34
PERFORMER: Clifford Curzon (piano); Amadeus QuartetMembers of the Amadeus Quartet, J Edward Merrett (double bass), Clifford Curzon (piano)
For readers who were present at these concerts or heard them on transmission, this series will have special significance, but even those unencumbered with nostalgia should find illumination and stimulus. Georges Enescu’s 1951 account of the Bach B minor Mass was certainly a BBC legend, and I remember Robert Simpson speaking of this performance with awe and veneration – as well he might (he dedicated his First Quartet to Enescu that same year). The solo line-up is little short of sensational (including Suzanne Danco and Kathleen Ferrier, both in their prime), with the Boyd Neel Orchestra, and above all the inspired direction and incomparable musicianship of Georges Enescu.The sound has no want of presence and is much better than you might expect, though not all is perfect; the horn makes very heavy weather of the Quoniam.


When Jascha Horenstein conducted Mahler’s Eighth Symphony with the LSO and a distinguished array of soloists and choirs, there was only one recording of it available, a mono account from the Rotterdam Philharmonic under Eduard Flipse (Philips), so music lovers were either tending their tape-recorders (as I did) or attending the concert itself. It is a magisterial and commanding account – and still sounds good. Ten years later, when John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra with Kerstin Meyer as soloist gave the Third Symphony at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, there were several commercial LPs. Barbirolli’s Mahler has warmth and breadth, though some may find Meyer’s vibrato too obtrusive. Cellos and double basses are wanting in weight in the opening movement, and I regret the excision of applause and an ugly edit as the D major chord dies away.

I attended the electrifying concert by Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic of the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony, given in the presence of the composer, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 33. The performance is among the most intense and deeply-felt of any on CD, and if you possess either an off-air tape or the commercial recording (Melodiya briefly issued this on mono LPs), be assured that this transfer is in every way superior in presence and dynamic range. Apart from Mravinsky’s primitively recorded 1947 account, perhaps, this goes deeper into the score than any other recording I have heard.

Kempe had recorded Brahms’s Fourth Symphony commercially with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI) and the RPO (RCA), but this live performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra has a lot going for it. (Its warm, ample acoustic suggests the Royal Albert rather than Royal Festival Hall, or very skilful engineering.) The Schubert coupling is a delight.

Constantin Silvestri’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony with the Bournemouth SO is less eccentric than his 1958 French Radio version (HMV), in which he ‘touched up’ the scoring, though he still pulls it about. His Pines of Rome, on the other hand, is wonderfully evocative.

London offered an embarrassment of riches in the Sixties. (As a matter of interest, I remember that on the day that Pierre Monteux conducted La damnation de Faust, Sutherland was singing Alcina at Covent Garden, Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten were giving Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall and there was a Swedish opera group at the then flourishing Camden Festival.) Monteux subsequently took his distinguished cast, Régine Crespin, André Turp, Michel Roux and John Shirley-Quirk, into the studio, but this live performance makes an eminently viable and desirable alternative to the studio set. Both are touched by distinction.

Two of Stokowski’s Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra are represented on the disc devoted to him: an extraordinarily high-voltage, almost incandescent account of Falla’s El amor brujo, and an exhilarating performance of Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide, given with a riveting Beethoven Seventh, albeit with the scherzo shorn of its second trio and a number of repeats. The Beethoven is not quite as dazzling as I remembered, but is still pretty marvellous (even with the ‘highlights’ scherzo) and the Falla is more thrilling than any commercial recording.


The last two issues are both Festival Hall relays. The Brahms F minor Piano Quintet is played by Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet, with the Schubert Trout Quintet as a bonus. They never recorded either work commercially as a partnership (Curzon’s Brahms was with the Budapest, and the Trout was with the Vienna Octet). Richter’s 1979 Schubert recital includes three Sonatas, the B major, D575, the F minor, D625 and the sunny A major, D664. He recorded all three for EMI in Japan a couple of years later, but these are equally concentrated and powerful readings, well if rather closely balanced. Throughout the series the accompanying documentation is excellent and authoritative.