EMI Classics pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and Virgin Classics' string quartet, the Artemis, have joined their formidable musical forces to record two of the most beautiful piano quintets of the Romantic chamber music repertoire. Their collaboration makes for what will certainly be considered a landmark recording, bringing a new vigour to these well-known masterpieces. The programme couples 2 major piano quintets by Brahms and Schumann. Brahms' Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34 is the composer's only piano quintet and is considered one of his finest compositions. The work began life as a string quintet, later evolving into a sonata for two pianos, before taking its final form in 1866. Of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E Op 44, Clara Schumann, who premiered it said: "A glorious piece, extremely brilliant and effective. Schumann's sole composition for piano quintet was composed in 1842, a year practically devoted to the composition of chamber works for piano and strings.
Among the major choral-orchestral works of the 19th century, Sir Roger Norrington and his former Orchestra, the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, have tackled over the years, now finally comes Brahms' "German Requiem." one of the most beautiful and popular sacred music works in the repertoire. Brahms’ contemporaries, including his close friend Clara Schumann were moved with the score and were enthusiastic about it - and it has been a favorite with the general public ever since. Although Biblical texts are used, the piece is not in the standard church-liturgical tradition. It was Brahms‘personal response to "those who mourn"! The central idea of this masterpiece is the reality of human existence. It is precisely this „earthly character“ that Roger Norrington uses to shape his interpretation emphasizing the grave beautify of the music and not religious awe; in this, Norrington draws us close to the composer’s intentions. He is ably supported by soprano soloist Christina Landshamer, basso Florian Boesch, SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart and the NDR.
Johannes Brahms was a man of contrasts. His serious Teutonic music was balanced by joyful dance music. His miserliness with himself by exceeding generosity with family and associates. His kindness to working people with a biting, malicious wit reserved for those he encountered in artistic and aristocratic circles.
These two sonatas, originally written for clarinet, marked the end of an intense period of depression for Brahms, during which his creative energies had all but faded. Kim Kashkashian, whose command of the viola unearths an even deeper realm of possibility in this already engaging diptych, faithfully captures the somber circumstances of its creation. In doing so, she shows that the viola is no less an instrument of breath, drawing from deep within her lungs the sheer vocal power required to carry across such arresting music.