Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 26, 2017

The Titans: Schumann and Brahms Piano Quintets

Mahaiwe, Great Barrington, MA
Close Encounters with Music
October 21, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

A warm reception was offered to the opening performance of the 26th season of Close Encounters with Music series. Clearly the audience was primed and expecting a first-rate performance of two, much beloved classics of the chamber music repertoire.

The evening commenced with an informative introduction by Yehuda Hanani, artistic director of the series and cellist in the evening’s performance. In his lecture, Hanani went straight to the music with descriptive insights into the composers and each movement of the pieces, knowing he had an informed audience, ready to listen and learn.

The program’s pieces are both considered to be giants of their respective composers’ overall output, and of chamber music repertoire. In order to present them in chronological order they were reversed from the program order with the Schumann going first, followed by intermission and then the Brahms, which was preceded by another introductory lecture from Hanani.

The piano quintet was a new concept in chamber music in 1842 when Robert Schumann wrote his now famous Quintet in Eb major.  At the time, Schumann was engaged to the lovely and talented Clara Wieck, and the addition of a piano to the standard string quartet gave her an opportunity to perform her fiancĂ©’s music, perhaps helping to assuage her father’s concerns about his prospective new son-in-law.

The Brahms Quintet in F minor is surely one of the giants in Brahms canon, and not for the faint of heart. The demands placed on the players to successfully surmount this musical mountain of a piece are extraordinary. The fast passages went at lightening speed; the quiet, pensive ones were played with delicate control and sensitivity; and the musical conversation amongst the players had to be developed to a high degree. Chamber music requires team players who interact with each other, passing the music between them and understanding their roles to form a cohesive whole. The five performers, all fine players from diverse backgrounds, came together and did just that. The audience and this reviewer raved about this outstanding evening of first rate, high class artistry. Bravo!