This impressive release, flawlessly produced by Andrew Keener and superbly recorded by Simon Eadon, coupling the sole Piano Quintets of Amy Beach and Edward Elgar, was set down in May last year soon after Harumi Rhodes had been installed as second violin of the Takács Quartet (founded in 1975) and before Richard O’Neill was named as Geraldine Walther’s successor as viola-player.
New Englander Amy Beach (1867-1944), née Cheney—she married a Boston doctor to become Mrs H. H. A. Beach—wrote her F sharp minor Piano Quintet in 1907, her Opus 67. Coincidentally or not, the dark and mysterious slow introduction reminds of the then recent string sextet Verklärte Nacht of Schoenberg and the ensuing Allegro moderato is of serious expression, rather Brahmsian I suppose, certainly gripping in its depth and emotional volatility—dramatic, eerie and tender, vying sadness with solace. The slow movement is touchingly intimate and the Finale initially scampers along if without losing earlier shadows and then diverting to slower-tempo/intense reflections. The closing bars are resolute if not necessarily bringing resolution. If you have not done so already, Mrs Beach’s Piano Quintet is well-worth discovering.
Elgar’s example (A minor, Opus 84) dates from the end of World War One. It is perhaps a work difficult to get to know, certainly regarding the multifaceted outer movements—I find it so, anyway—and this account of it goes a long way to aid reconciliation. What makes the piece a must-hear is the soulful central Adagio—ineffably beautiful music that is beyond words—rendered here with a confiding compassion that leaves one transported.
Throughout both opuses, the Takács members and the masterly Garrick Ohlsson (his subtle contribution to Elgar’s Adagio is special) make a dream team of true chamber-music interaction, recognising the privacy of the writing yet making it so communicative. Such fine music and music-making comes highly recommended.