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Brahms Piano Quintet (Uchida & Hagens)

Mozart String Quartet in Eb K428
Bartok String Quartet No.3
Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 34

Lukas Hagen violin Rainer Schmidt violin Veronika Hagen viola Clemens Hagen cello Mitsuko Uchida piano

Wigmore Hall 9 March 2009

Most people had booked this long sold-out concert for Uchida and Brahms; they were not disappointed.

The Brahms Piano Quintet remains a problematic peak of the chamber music repertoire. My own lifelong attachment to it is rehearsed in a review of a fine performance by the Emersons with Kalish a year ago. Satisfactory performances are rather the exception. Musical Pointers has covered several accounts, some of them disappointing, though our reviewers are far from unanimous in how it should go.

The work went through two recompositions and Clara thought it should be recast for " - the whole orchestra, as though out of a horn of plenty - " [Misha Donat].* This tonight was one of the most compelling and continuously engrossing of all accounts I have heard, a notable marriage between one of today's most influential pianists and string players (three of them siblings) who have stuck together for twenty years.

It was never a case of piano against string quartet. Uchida was attentive and considerate to her partners, achieving a balance that ensured every voice was properly audible all of the time. At the piano, she produced an unusual variety of tone colour; crystalline bright and clear to dark and sonorous. Tempi were more flexible than sometimes, with slowing for some of the most beautiful strings passages, brought back to tempo (sometimes a little jerkily) by Uchida. Dynamic range was enormous. It was alive in every phrase and bar, making for comparably intense listening.

I had mixed reactions to the first half of the concert. The Hagen Quartet is one of Switzerland's best and their Mozart performance was possibly over refined and subtlised; little points made in nearly every phrase, maybe going far beyond what Mozart would have had in mind. Their exposition of Bartok's most concentrated quartet was immaculate, clearly the result of many years familiarity.

But it was the Brahms, greeted with unending applause - but no encore - that we'll all remember.**

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Has that been done? Seems well worth while (c.f.
Brahms Piano Quartet no 1 orch.Schoenberg

** The Times: - - the Hagen Quartet are the most immaculate of ensembles, and performed a Mozart K428 that was wreathed in beauty and almost analytically precise.
- - the
Brahms Piano Quintet with Uchida embodied a justness of co-operation far beyond the power of words to describe.

N.B. Catch the broadcast of this Hagen/Uchida concert: BBC R3 25 March 2009

Surfing for related information, I have been pleased to come across a rich American source of recorded concerts InstantEncore, where you can, for example, hear five live performances of the Brahms piano quintet ! And another site from which you can download free an early edition of its full score [pictured]