Piers Lane and the Goldner Quartet add another pearl to their string of gems, Bruch’s Piano Quintet.

BRUCH: String Quartet in c, Op. 9; Swedish Dances for Violin and Piano; Piano Quintet in g – Piers Lane, p./ Goldner String Quartet – Hyperion CDA68120, 77:40 (4/1/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded 18-20 February 2015, this album provides a sturdy cross-section of chamber music by Max Bruch (1838-1920), whose reputation, even after virtually one hundred years, rests upon a small number of concerted works for violin and orchestra. Chamber music, for Bruch, came at the extremes of his long life; and a few of us recall some clarinet-trio pieces that comprise his Op. 83.

The c minor Quartet featured here by the Goldner String Quartet – Dene Olding and Dimitry Hall, violins; Irina Morozova, viola; and Julian Smiles, cello – offers us a student work – supervised by Carl Reinecke and Ferdinand Breuning – from 1856, and its expansive first movement contains an energy that may well fall under a sturm und drang rubric, possibly taken from the Op. 44 Mendelssohn quartets. The Goldner Quartet, however, takes a lyrical approach to this music, which begins Andante, then follows a concertante first violin to a fiery Allegro ma non troppo. If the tempest in this music suffers somewhat, its flowing, melodic content does not, and the (academic) polyphony does not seem entirely gratuitous. Over a drone bass in the cello, the Adagio moves in transparently lyrical figures in ternary form, with a contrasting middle section. The textural interplay of the interior lines proves most gratifying, aided by fine acoustics from engineer Jeremy Hayes. The third movement, Allegro molto energico, provides us a lively scherzo in potent accents, much in a spirit akin to Dvorak. Its counter-theme enjoys a folksy loveliness that justifies the price of admission. Like Dvorak, Bruch makes good use of his viola.  The finale, Molto vivace, has an agitated beginning, but it suddenly breaks into an elated dance in two themes, one of which sounds like a tarantella. Once more, drone effects scurry through the lively fabric of the dance, with a resounding energy palpable in every measure from the Smiles cello part.    

The Bruch Swedish Dances (1892) derive from the composer’s desire to score a popular success in a medium made lucrative through Brahms and Dvorak. These pieces first became familiar to me through a recording with orchestra by Kurt Masur. There are sixteen dances, originally written for violin and piano, with Bruch’s having received aid from Joseph Joachim in fingering and phrasing of passages. The set begins and ends with the same dance. The works enjoy a potent rhythmic flavor, and the gentler selections often have songs as their basis. For instance, No. 10 derives from “Joessehaerads-polska,” which Hugo Alven utilizes In Mid-summer Rhapsody. The Olding/Lane duo performs these Bruch dainties with elan and occasional brilliance, and they succeed, on their own terms, to convince us that these salon pieces might find other violinists to champion their virtues.

The 1888 Piano Quintet in g minor has its etiology in Bruch’s stay in Liverpool, where he befriended Andrew Kurtz, a cultivated businessman who loved art and music. Bruch deliberately catered the keyboard part to the abilities of Mr. Kurtz, advising him at the beginning of the Allegro molto moderato, “Not too fast!” The opening chorale theme could easily be attributed to Schubert, and it soon enjoys a galloping rhythm and the individual sonority of the strings. The piano beats out a “fate” motif that has the chorale tune as a response. The melodic content of the first movement carries the easy, fluid momentum that marks Mendelssohn as its model. The triplet and arpeggio work from Piers Lane gathers exciting momentum as the development section becomes rather tumultuous.

In 3/8, the Adagio introduces a song in E-flat Major, illumined by glowing string sonorities. Since the moody secondary theme so resembles the opening idea, the music plays out like a seamless, Mendelssohn song without words. More Mendelssohn antics ensue in the Scherzo: Allegro molto – Trio, whose scalar passages will doubtless call to mind similar figures in Schumann. The major impulse, fleet and impishly coy, scampers ahead in energetic bursts. The Trio section, nostalgic in the best Schumann tradition, testifies to Bruch’s natural gift for melody. Bruch’s relatively brief finale, Allegro agitato, takes the heroic cue from Schubert, a rushing, virile gesture that finds some solace in slower music, but whose mighty onrush will eventually enjoy the last word. The collaborative energy between Lane and the Goldner ensemble makes us wonder why the mighty piece waited until 1988 for its first official publication.

—Gary Lemco