Movement 1: Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Vivacissimo
Movement 3: Andante con variazioni
Movement 4: Allegro vivace
The scherzo, marked Vivacissimo, starts with a low repeated C pizzicato in the cello, and any suspicions that the movement might be inspired by the scherzo of Brahms’s F minor Piano Quintet are immediately confirmed by the piano’s sinister chromatic response and the staccato rhythmic writing thereafter. Though the cello plays muted throughout, this is a more capricious, roughly playful and perhaps grotesque movement than Brahms’s highly driven invention, however. It is also much shorter, arriving swiftly at a tenderly melodic trio (Meno mosso) played unmuted. The scherzo music is extended on its reappearance, the cello’s pizzicato tolling away sepulchrally in the final bars of what is a brilliant and unusual invention.
There follows a substantial Andante con variazioni: Reger was a master of variation-form, as his many sets of variations for piano or orchestra or organ, or the variation-finale of his Clarinet Quintet, readily attest. The intriguingly flexible, thirteen-bar theme starts out as a calm, almost hymn-like melody, the first half on the cello, the second on the piano. The six variations (most of them concluded by a rising fourth, pizzicato, on the cello) progressively shorten the note-values and elaborate upon the main melody’s simplicity, roving chromatically further afield and becoming more dance-like and effervescent. The delightful sense of give-and-take between the two instruments is a most attractive feature of this highly inventive movement. Variation 5 is the heart of the piece, an apparently slow variation beginning with antiphonal solo exchanges between the players and then recalling the hectic atmosphere of the first movement, after which Variation 6 is distinguished by the rippling, purling scalic passages of the piano part, which flow into a short coda briefly recalling the variation-theme’s opening.
The finale, marked Allegro vivace, brings emotional relaxation in the form of a cheerful rondo: an alternately ambling, capering, nostalgic, occasionally rather garrulous movement in a scherzo-like 6/8 time, driving at last to a decisive and good-humoured conclusion.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008