It took more than a century, but Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet has finally got the recording it deserves, courtesy of Garrick Ohlsson and the Tákacs Quartet. Written in 1909, Beach’s Quintet is a glorious piece, it’s three movements marked by a mix of rhapsodic lyricism, virtuosity, and lush, late-Romantic chromatic harmony.
The present recording draws out those qualities mightily. Ohlsson’s account of the demanding keyboard writing (Beach was, throughout her life, an acclaimed pianist) is never less than breathtaking, beautifully voiced and brimming with color. He and the Quartet weave in and out of their foreground/background roles in the piece with the utmost naturalness, ably drawing out the subtleties of Beach’s highly motivic writing in the process (the ravishing second movement is a particular highlight).
A similar brilliance of execution marks their reading of Sir Edward Elgar’s epic 1919 Piano Quintet, which rounds out the album. This is a smart pairing: structurally and technically, both pieces have more than a little bit in common, including an elegiac, serious tone even at their most upbeat moments.
Here, Ohlsson and the Quartet deliver taut, cleanly balanced readings of the outer movements (the contrasts between the first’s lean, inward-focused moments and brawny, extroverted ones are conspicuously gripping), while the slow second is radiant: by the end, it’s almost as though the music is glowing from within.
In all, then, a terrific release, wholly satisfying, and timely as ever. To boot: one might hope that this can help nudge the Beach Quintet to its proper place as a cornerstone of the chamber music repertoire.