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Berwald chamber music


Quartet in E flat major for piano and wind  

Piano Trio No 2 in F minor

Grand Septet in B flat major

Piano Quintet No 1 in C minor

Duo in D major for pianoforte and violin

Piano Trio No 4 in C major

The Gaudier Ensemble

Hyperion CDD22053


Franz Berwald ((1796-1868) turned to chamber music because his orchestral works remained unplayed. But those too have remained on the sidelines, and owners of this set will wonder why.


Reissued as a dyadic bargain, this selection of Berwald's chamber music should be snapped up by anyone who likes a change from the accepted canon of accredited masterworks. Unlucky in his home country and in seeking his fortune abroad (he had to earn his living in the world of medicine, founding an orthopeodic institute and devising equipment used through into the next century)


The notes by Robert Layton (who also provides Gramophone's reviews) as reprinted with this re-releasecan be unduly condescending - "some signs of individuality - - remains a worthwhile contribution", "more conventional and musically less interesting"; "a relatively uninteresting if not downright feeble piece" etc, and some of the works receive no description or analysis, e.g. Piano Trio No 4. But that is a musicolgist speaking.


Leave aside questions of formal construction (plenty of originality there, especially in enfolding one movement within another) it needs to be said that this is a wholly delightful oeuvre, with enough novelty for the ordinary listener, arising from the likely unfamiliarity of all this music, to push such thoughts aside. None of it is portentous or overblown, and each and every work chosen comes across as fresh, making you wonder why it does not find its way into chamber music recitals regularly. There are not too many piano quintets and the neglect of this one is inexcusable.


The ordering of each of the discs makes for satisfying contrast and variety, though I preferred to savour each of the six compositions separately to maintain concentration and maximise pleasure. Recording quality and presentation are as one expects from Hyperion. The performances are affectionate and lively, everyone on their toes. The set is indispensible for the many fans of Susan Tomes, our great and unsurpassable chamber music pianist. She dances and ripples her way through all but one of the delectable scores here assembled, nor is she let down by any of the fine wind and string soloists of the Gaudier Ensemble, who also give the Grand Septet without her, nor with any other named leader.

© Peter Grahame Woolf