Edward Bhesania
The Strad
June 2017

Written between 1918 and 1920, these three chamber works are practically the last pieces Bruch composed before his death, aged 82, and though they are contemporaneous with Varèse's futuristic Amériques, they inhabit a Romantic idiom suggesting they date from more than half a century earlier.

The first of the three pieces, the A minor String Quintet, is the weakest in inspiration and offers the players less scope to impress. Here the first violin, Stephanie Gonley, tends to sound neither meshed within the group nor soloistcally distinct enough from it. The recording, slightly on the dry side, could perhaps have helped a little more here.

The 'top-heavy' writing (treating the first violin rather as a concertante soloist) is more successful—more overtly soloistic—in the E flat major Piano Quartet, which duly draws more ardent, stirringly Romantic playing from the ensemble. The players especially convey the spirited feel of the scherzo, and the warm slow movement is lusciously enriched by Adrian Brendel's cello.

The Octet is even beefier at the bottom end, with the use (as in Mendelssohn’s Octet) of a double bass, played by Peter Buckoke. There's an assured sense of collective playing here, not least in a fluid-sounding Adagio, in whose well-defined rhythmic undertow the Nash Ensemble reveals a touch of drama.

The informative booklet notes offer insights into thematic connections with Bruch's symphonies as well as details of the early performance history of the works.