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Brahms & Schumann Piano Quintets arr. two pianos

Begoña Uriarte and Karl-Hermann Mrongovius, pianists

ARTS 47597-2 [69’25]

How many full-time Piano Quintets can you name?

Maybe there are none; the Schubert Ensemble of London comes close, but favours a double bass in its core line-up.

So performances of the Brahms and Schumann piano quintets usually have the tension and interest of ad-hoc comings together; there are many fine examples and great performances available on disc from Serkin and Busch (both quintets) to Pollini (Brahms) and Pires (Schumann). It is well known that both composers made arrangements (partly to maintain sales) and that the Brahms Op 34b and Schumann's Op.44 have respectable credentials. I have however never taken them very seriously until today.

The Uriarte/Mrongovius Duo is sensational in both these contrasting works. Common to both is a wonderful, easy sounding unanimity without any feeling of stress or determination, with repeated retakes to eliminate moments of asynchrony. They appear to feel and play as one; is it fanciful to hope that this represents too a good extra-musical marital relationship? Voicing of what can become dense textures and a prevailing percussiveness is perfectl with give-and take surely born of long familiarity with both scores through regular performances.

The Uriarte/Mrongovius Brahms is the more direct as is appropriate, though lighter (and a little faster overall, we thought) than the trenchant approach of a Serkin, my benchmark account for Op 34 since young adulthood. The Schumann is suitably more flexible and romantic. Both make a good case for the duo-piano versions.

Very well recorded in Spain in association with Radio Nacional (November 2006) this is a must-have release from ARTS, an Italian record company that has given us great pleasure over the years, notably in recordings by Peter Maag.

Peter Grahame Woolf