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Zdenek Fibich – Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano in D major Op. 42
Raised in Vienna by a Czech father and German mother, Zdenek Fibich always remained in the shadows of his contemporaries Dvorak and Smetana. Whilst these two giants of Bohemian music gave themselves over wholeheartedly to the national cause, Fibich’s musical language is more ambivalent. A confirmed Wagnerian, his output encompasses operas, symphonies and several chamber works, the last of which is the Quintet for clarinet, horn, violin, cello and piano Op. 42. The combination of instruments provides a wealth of colours and textures in a work full of melodic richness and structure that owes as much to Brahms and Schumann as it does to Fibich’s heritage. This is a marvellous work that deserves far more outings on the world’s concert platforms.
Robert Schumann – Andante und Vartiationen WoO 10
One only needs to take a quick glance at the scoring of this highly unusual work to understand why its appearances on the concert platform are rare: this approximately 18-minute piece is scored for two pianos, two cellos and horn – a combination not many ordinary chamber music venues can accomodate. Written in 1843, shortly after both the Piano Quintet Op. 44 and Piano Quartet Op. 47, this is a deeply romantic work of which Schumann wrote to a friend: “Their mood is very elegiac and I think I must have been very melancholic when I wrote them.” Unsatisfied with the piece, he withdrew it and later re-published it as his Op. 46 in a shortened version for two pianos.
York Bowen – Phantasy Quintet for bass clarinet and strings Op. 93
When someone mentions the bass clarinet, the mind is invariably drawn to its prominent solos in some of the great works of the symphonic repertoire such as Strauss’ Don Quixote or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. But when it comes to starring as a solo instrument in a chamber music setting, the clarinet’s big brother doesn’t get many outings. And indeed, York Bowen’s Phantasy Quintet Op. 93 is the first chamber music work to fully exploit the instrument’s full capabilities and characteristics. Written in the one movement “Phantasy” style so popular with English 20th century composers, this beautiful piece explores a wide variety of moods, always demanding both lyricsm and great virtuosity from its featured soloist. Listen to a live performance from a 2017 ChamberMusicBox concert below:
Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov – Quintet in B flat major for piano & winds (1876)
This excellent contribution to the repertoire for piano and winds, was written for a composition contest announed by the Russian Musical Society in 1876. Unlike its counterparts by Beethoven and Mozart, its score features a flute in lieu of the oboe. The competition didn’t go too well for Rimsky-Korsakov, a fate he largely put down to the fact that the pianist assigned to his work struggled with the virtuosic piano writing! The Quintet comprises of three movements, an expansive Allegro in classical style, an Andante featuring a fugato section for the winds and a concluding Rondo that gives each instrument its turn to shine.
Sergei Prokofiev – Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass Op. 39
This highly unusual, but absolutely splendid work made in onto the ChamberMusicBox programme early on, at the start of 2017, and is guaranteed to return before long. In 1924 Prokofiev was living in Paris as one of many Russian emigrés, when he was commissioned to write a ballet based on a plot around circus life for a roving dance group and a small ensemble of five instruments. The result is perhaps one of his most radical scores, written for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and a double bass in lieu of the cello. Often compared to Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat, the Quintet consists of six movements, each highly distinctive in character and drawing on the particular sonorities of each instrument.