What is Chamber Obscurities?

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This site is devoted to spotlighting lesser-known chamber works and various instrumental music (solo piano, violin, cello, etc.) roughly from the late 18th century to the present. My definition of “chamber” is broad and employed here to distinguish small instrumental forces from the orchestral genres. Thus you’ll find anything from Onslow’s string quintets and Vieuxtemps’s etudes to Wagner piano transcriptions and cello sonatas by Lera Auerbach (b. 1973).

Reviews are written by me and posted in blog format below. There are special articles and record guides based on a particular theme to help intrepid collectors. Love anything that sounds like Brahms? Check out “The Brahmsians” where I list some of the best music from second-rank composers like Herzogenberg and Gernsheim. Are you animated by really dramatic, fiery, and turbulent chamber music? Read my “Sturm und Drang” page for recording suggestions.

I’m also compiling an index of composers currently represented in the discography. Each composer, organized by era, will have their own page containing a biographical sketch, a complete works list of their chamber and instrumental music, and a comprehensive collection of recordings arrayed by cover art for easy identification.

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Herz – Piano Music

Herz-Piano-Music

Piano Music (Amazon)

Henri Herz (1803-1888)
Variations on ‘Non Più Mesta’ from Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola’, Op. 60
Introduction & Variations on an original Theme, Op. 81
Fantasy & Variations on various American National Themes, Op. 158
Three Nocturnes Caracteristiques, op. 45
-No. 1 “La dolcezza”
-No. 2 “La melanconia”
-No. 3 “La semplicità”
Ballade, Op. 117/1
Ballade, Op. 117/2
Fantaisie dramatique, Op. 89
Trois morceaux de salon, Op. 91
-No. 3 “Le mouvement perpetuel”

Philip Martin, piano

 (2008) – TT 79:40


Musical Popcorn – Fun Bravura and Sparkling Bonbons

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In a nutshell:
• If you like flamboyant and rollicking piano music from the Parisian salon, Herz delivers
• Variations on “Non Più Mesta” from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” is a substantial concert piece loaded with rapid fingerwork, florid ornaments, glissandi, and even lyricism and noble expression. Martin’s performance is as effective as Earl Wild’s.
• “Introduction & Variations on an Original Theme,” op. 81 has frenetic triplets, frothy leggiero passagework, cascades of pearly runs, a Polish march, and nocturnal reflections.
• “Le movement perpetuel” is a scintillating showpiece of high-register filigree and oompah-rhythms.
• “Fantasy & Variations on various American National Themes” is a potpourri on the airs “Jackson’s March,” “Hail Columbia,” and “Yankee Doodle.” It may be trite and gaudy, but this amusing romp could be a guilty pleasure for some.
• “Three Nocturnes Caractéristiques” have Chopinesque singing lines and bel canto aspects. “La melanconia” might be the finest of the three: a sighing minor-key melody supported by a rocking arpeggiated accompaniment.
• Philip Martin (piano)—renowned for his Gottschalk survey—is the perfect pianist for the job. He’s got the technique and flair to bring out the best qualities in these bonbons.


Herz is typically low on the totem pole of early 19th century virtuosi. His legacy has not held up as well as even Thalberg, although Earl Wild did revive interest in Herz’s Variations on Rossini’s “Non Piu Mesta.” Otherwise it has been Hyperion leading the charge of recording his music. In fact, this is the first program of Herz’s piano pieces to be released. I’m bewildered by the poor reviews it’s been getting in the press. Herz never aimed to be a Chopin, Liszt, or even a Henselt, but he was gifted at writing brilliant showpieces. If you like bel canto singing lines, glittering showers of notes, and salon pianism typical of the 1830s, the selection on this disc should strike your fancy.

Herz’s major contribution was his Variations on “Non Più Mesta” from Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.” It has all the trappings of a virtuoso concert piece: rapid fingerwork, florid ornaments, glissandi, and even lyricism and noble expression. Philip Martin plays with as much infectious élan and alacrity as Earl Wild. A similar idiom is employed in the “Introduction & Variations on an Original Theme,” op. 81, which offers a smattering of moods and textural variety, from frenetic triplets and cascades of pearly runs to marches and nocturnes. More attractive note-spinning can be heard in “Le movement perpetuel,” a fast scintillating showpiece of high-register filigree and oompah-rhythms. Martin’s gossamer touch is phenomenal. Some critics accuse Herz of vapidity in the “Fantasy & Variations on various American National Themes.” It’s a potpourri on the airs “Jackson’s March,” “Hail Columbia,” and “Yankee Doodle.” I can’t deny much of it is gaudy and insipid, but this amusing romp has the potential to be a guilty pleasure.

Herz was capable of writing refined and poetic salon pieces lacking ostentatious display. A fine example of this are the Three Nocturnes Caractéristiques, in which singing lines and Chopinesque wistfulness are integral elements. “La dolcezza” is a vehicle for gentle lyricism sounding like a transcription of a Bellini aria. The yearning “La semplicità” is much like a Henselt etude with a single melody wreathed in busy figurations. “La melanconia” might be the finest of the three: a sighing minor-key melody supported by a rocking arpeggiated accompaniment. Herz’s two ballades of op. 117 are trite, but the first exudes the atmosphere of a nocturne. There’s a dreamy mood generated by the vocal expressive lines and placid swaying rhythms. Impassioned outbursts and turbulence occasionally spice things up. The second ballade is not particularly memorable and Jeremy Nicholas compares it to Gottschalk.

What must be the skunk of this program is the “Fantaisie dramatique” – a truly banal, incoherent, and rambling piece made off the assembly line for a quick buck. As Nicholas explains in the liner notes, its full title is misleading: “Fantaisie dramatique sur le célèbre choral protestant intercalé dans ‘Les Huguenots.’” This is not a fantasy on Lutheran chorales or Meyerbeer, although references are made to this material in the score. It’s mostly original material by Herz and it wears out its welcome all too soon, owing to rhapsodic noodling and lack of excitement or melodic interest. Apart from this dud, the program should satisfy pianophiles. Philip Martin is a terrific champion of this kind of literature, and anyone familiar with his Gottschalk survey can expect the same level of technique, brio, and musicianship here.

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~Hexameron


Henri-Herz
Herz – Works & Recordings

Martucci – Piano Trios, Quintet, Music for String Quartet

Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C major, Op. 59 (1882)
Piano Quintet in C major, Op. 43 (1877)
Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op. 62 (1883)
Momento Musicale for String Quartet
Minuetto for String Quartet
Three Pieces of Handel Transcribed for String Quartet

Quartetto Noferini
Roberto Noferini, violin
Federico Parravicini, violin
Anna Noferini, viola
Andrea Noferini, cello

Maria Semeraro, piano

 (2016) – TT 78:01 (CD1) 64:30 (CD2)


Martucci’s Best Efforts – Heavy, Sinewy, and Full-Blooded Chamber Works for Brahms Lovers

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In a nutshell:
• Martucci channels Brahms in these big-boned, lush, and brawny chamber works.
• Piano Trio No. 1 in C major is a minor masterpiece: weighty, dramatic, full of passion and emotional depth. In the realm of second-tier Brahmsian trios, this is one of the very best I’ve heard.
• Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major is gentler and less profound than No. 1, but still loaded with compelling ideas and expressive import.
• Piano Quintet in C major is described in Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music as “ingenious, massive, poetic and high art.”
• The five small pieces for string quartet are innocuous dances, including the Handel transcriptions, each roughly 2 minutes long.
• Quartetto Noferini delivers a powerful reading of these magisterial works. Their tempos are slower than Trio Vega, but that’s a virtue here. Note: they observe repeats. Maria Semeraro (piano) is a formidable presence with a versatile palette of touch, from heaven-storming to achingly tender.


Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) sought to revive instrumental music in opera-dominated Italy. He did much to introduce German Romanticism to the public and his own works reveal an affinity for Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. I was not impressed by his music for cello and piano, but I am stunned by the stature of these two piano trios and the quintet. They have been recorded before on Claves, while the two trios recently appeared on Naxos. But this is the first time both trios and the quintet are issued together in a 2-CD set. More importantly, the caliber of performance here has a decided edge over Trio Vega on Naxos. Quartetto Noferini not only plays better, but unlike Vega, they take the exposition repeats.

Piano Trio No. 1 in C Major, op. 59 (1882) is one of the greatest Brahmsian trios I’ve heard in years; right up there with those of Herzogenberg and Röntgen. It opens with a big, heavy, and impassioned “Allegro giusto” with fantastic thematic material that reminds me of Liszt’s Un Sospiro. Indeed, the piano is consistently robust and intensely active. An eventful development of Brahmsian ferocity and dramatic strains of passion follows. There are so many elements to be in awe of: the emotional depth, magisterial part-writing, and thick sonorities generated by the ensemble. Next is a scurrying and turbulent “Scherzo” hurling forward by a vigorous piano part. Like the first movement, the melancholy “Andante con moto” exudes inspiration and expressive purpose. Lush harmony, waves of passion, and dark-hued cello writing are notable features. The work finishes with a triumphal “Allegro risoluto” balancing light patter and tension, all dressed in Brahmsian accoutrements.

According to Silvertrust, “Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music devotes four pages to Martucci’s Piano Quintet, calling it expressive, ingenious, massive, poetic and high art.” Like the trios, the Piano Quintet in C major, op. 45 (1877) is grandiose and shot through with the essence of Brahms. Martucci sets the stage for this heavyweight masterpiece with a virile “Allegro giusto” of steady quality. The piano writing is dynamic, crashing loudly during climaxes or gently angelic in tender passages. A meditative “Andanto con moto” follows, an exemplar of felicity and searching lyricism, yielding to a somber central section. The “Scherzo” embraces its bright major key despite the occasional spike of brooding tension. There’s a great contrapuntal section of sweeping pianism and soaring strings. Martucci tricks the ear in this movement, which sounds through-composed if not for a very short and truncated reprise of the scherzo theme in the final 30 seconds of a 7-minute movement.

Coming off the heels of the first trio, the Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, Op.62 (1883) is less imposing and dramatic, but still supplies verdant Brahmsian elegance. With repeats taken, this trio amounts to a colossal 50-minute work, beginning with an autumnal and lyrical “Allegro” with many emotional contrasts in the development. As a curious divergence, Martucci’s bold “Scherzo” is highly dissonant, angular, and unstable. Its anxiously pulsing piano part suggests alarm bells, while the awkward rhythms and stabs of dissonance are extraordinary for the 1880s. The ensuing “Adagio” ebbs and flows between tenderness and vehemence. Finally, the piece ends in life-affirming triumph, employing a lively texture dominated by repeated notes. Several smaller pieces for string quartet are included, but these are trifles and easy to ignore after the three weighty chamber works preceding them. Even the Handel transcriptions are innocuous 2-minute dances.

Quartetto Noferini, an ensemble of siblings, delivers a powerful reading of these magisterial works, projecting a big sound and dynamic vitality while squeezing so much beauty out of the harmonies and melodic contours. Their tempos are slower than Trio Vega, but that’s a virtue in this case. A leisurely approach and long-breathed sustains are especially necessary in the slow movements. Pianist Maria Semeraro is also a formidable presence: muscular, emotionally invested, and intense.

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~Hexameron


Giuseppe-Martucci
Martucci – Works & Recordings

Martucci – Piano Music (Brilliant)

Martucci-Piano-Music

Piano Music (Amazon)

Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
6 Pezzi, Op. 44 (1880)
Novella, Op. 50 (1891)
Fantasia, Op. 51 (1888)
2 Notturni, Op. 70

Alberto Miodini, piano

 (2016) – TT 70:05


Effective Salon Pieces from an Italian with the Heart of a German Romantic

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In a nutshell:
• Martucci writes in the idiom of Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, and Anton Rubinstein and will appeal to Romantic pianophiles.
• “6 Pezzi” is a cross-over of light salon and concert pieces, like the dramatic “Pezzo fantastico,” the infectious “Color orientale” with an ear-worm theme, and the exuberant “Tarantella.”
• “Fantasia” is a 12-minute virtuoso affair of difficult passagework and grandeur, while the two “Notturni” are pensive and expressive miniatures worth hearing.
• Performances by Alberto Miodini (piano) are dashing, expressive, and technically assured.


Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) made the intrepid choice of being an instrumental composer in opera-dominated Italy. He knew Liszt and Anton Rubinstein, developed an affinity for German Romanticism, and taught a generation of Italian composers. I was not impressed by his music for cello and piano, but after hearing these piano works, it’s clear he was in his element as a pianist-composer. No where is this more apparent than in the 6 Pezzi op. 44, a bundle of light salon and concert pieces assimilating the aesthetics of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Rubinstein.

“Pezzo fantastico” stands out for its extroverted patter and stentorian chordal writing, with a theme resembling Paganini. In one instance it captures the airy lightness of Mendelssohn and then swells with grandiose arpeggios and broken chords straight out of Liszt’s playbook. For me, “Color orientale” is a guilty pleasure. It has a jaunty march theme reminiscent of Liszt and Rubinstein that, for all its banality, is like a commercial jingle that won’t leave my head. Both the “Barcarola” and “Notturno” inhabit Chopin’s world; both are tender and innocuous with agitated central sections. “Notturno” is slightly more inventive with its constant fluctuations between major and minor, teasingly filling out the harmony with unexpected chromaticism. Finally, the “Tarantella” is a brilliant concert piece with florid writing reminiscent of Thalberg.

In his longer essays like the “Novella” and “Fantasia”—both over 11 minutes—Martucci can be overly rhapsodic and long-winded. “Novella” is a stab at the Chopinesque Scherzo with mixed results. “Fantasia” is better: a blustery and passionate piece with big chordal and arpeggiated convulsions, imitative counterpoint, Mendelssohnian note-spinning, and some decent melodic content to boot. The 2 Notturni op. 70 are bewitching jewels of melancholy and display a progression in Martucci’s harmonic language. The first in G-flat major swims in waters of yearning nostalgia with a nice upper voice in the right hand. The second in F-sharp minor is more somber with chromatic dissonance in spades and a coda flirting with Scriabin.

Alberto Miodini is well known as a member of the Trio di Parma, but he demonstrates remarkable chops as a concert soloist. These are limber, joyful, and spirited performances.

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~Hexameron


Giuseppe-Martucci
Martucci – Works & Recordings

Martucci – Complete Music for Cello and Piano

Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909)
Cello Sonata in F-sharp minor (1880)
Due Romanza, Op. 72 (1891)
Tre Pezzi, Op. 69 (1888)
Romanza (transc. by Martucci from Melodia, Op. 71)

Roberto Trainini, cello
Massimiliano Ferrati, piano

 (2014) – TT 70:37


Leisurely and Brahms-lite – For Chamber Enthusiasts or Martucci Completists Only

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In a nutshell:
• If you love Schumann and Brahms in a sunny disposition, or the late 19th-century cello literature in particular, this may be of interest.
• I might be temperamentally at odds with this kind of lightweight and unobtrusive chamber music, but I’ve heard and love Martucci’s Piano Trio No. 1 and Piano Quintet, each brooding, powerful, and brawny with sublime inspiration and thick textures. Nothing like that here.
• Cello Sonata in F-sharp minor (1880) is poised, lyrical, and not particularly memorable or dramatic.
• Romances (1891) are conventional and in the spirit of Schumann’s op. 94, but seem like pale imitations without melody or passion.
• Tre Pezzi (1888) are stronger and exude solemnity and expressive depth, sometimes reminiscent of late Liszt.
• You can now hear three recordings of Martucci’s chamber music on Brilliant Classics. I suggest going with his piano trios and piano quintet or his solo piano music. If you have a hankering for good cello music from a lesser-known Italian composer, listen to the harder-edged cello sonatas by Alfredo Casella, also released on Brilliant.


When opera dominated Italy in the 19th century, composers with an inclination for instrumental music had a choice: emigration or pedagogy. Like his colleague Sgambati, Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909) chose the latter and taught a generation of Italian composers with the ancillary goal of reviving instrumental music in his native country. Earlier in his life, he toured Europe and became acquainted with Liszt and Anton Rubinstein among others, thereby developing an affinity for German Romanticism. As a composer, he gravitated to the styles of Schumann and Brahms and wrote primarily for piano, although his output includes symphonies that won favor with Toscanini. For me, Martucci’s Piano Trio No. 1 and Piano Quintet are masterpieces, while the cello sonata and other pieces here lack force.

I’m bewildered that Martucci’s works for cello and piano have been recorded together many times by various labels, while the piano quintet, which is deemed his most important effort according to Cobbett’s Cyclopedia, is barely represented. When I see the key of F-sharp minor, I expect the composer means business and has something to say, but the Cello Sonata (1880) is gentle, leisurely, and without appealing melodic content. The large-scale 13-minute first movement has a few memorable phrases, but the rest is demure. Where’s the drama or sober beauty? No answer. Apart from the conventional scherzo and intermezzo, there are strong characteristics in the finale, which has verve and adroit piano writing.

The Romances (1891) are attractive enough, but lack the urgency and passion that so many other composers can impart. They share a kinship with Schumann’s op. 94 romances, but again, exhibit an absence of melodic invention or any dramatic bite. Only in the Tre Pezzi (1888) does Martucci reveal the best of his compositional powers. Each pezzo is roughly 9 minutes in length and has a solemn character, somewhat redolent of late Liszt. Nothing profound here, but they’re more attention-grabbing than the surrounding pieces. Performances are fine, although I haven’t heard other interpretations. Roberto Trainini (cello) has a warm tone and aptitude for lyricism.

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~Hexameron


Giuseppe-Martucci
Martucci – Works & Recordings

Neukomm – String Quintets

Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858)
Une Fête de Village en Suisse (ca. 1816-21)
L’amante abandonnée

Ensemble Les Adieux
Mary Utiger, violin
Ursula Bundies, violin
Bettina Ihrig, viola
Hajo Bass, viola
Nicholas Selo, cello

 (2002) – TT 54:56


Programmatic String Quintets Encompassing Pastoral Impressions and Doomed Love

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In a nutshell:
• Neukomm treads similar stylistic ground as his teachers Michael and Joseph Haydn with a tincture of Beethoven. At the same time, he strikes me as a pre-Romantic owing to his colorful and expressive forays in program music.
• These programmatic string quintets, composed in the 1810s, are scored for two violins, two violas, and cello.
• Une Fête de Village en Suisse (ca. 1816-1821) will bring to mind Beethoven’s 6th. Each movement depicts a pastoral scene, replete with rustic dances, hymns, and a storm disrupting the idyll. This is very attractive and evocative stuff.
• L’amante abandonnée (The Abandoned Lover) represents the stages of love in three movements: “Amour,” “Infidélité,” and “Désepoir” (Despair). There’s passion, harmonic instability, and furious activity in the outer movements.
• Ensemble Les Adieux gives elegant performances in a refined blend with clarity of voices and counterpoint.
• Natural sound and good recording quality. Short playing time: 54:56.


Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858) lived long enough to study with Joseph Haydn and compose a memoriam piece for Chopin. His output is humongous at over 1200 works in all genres. He has his roots in the classical era and writes in a post-Haydn idiom, while showing some assimilation of Beethoven. It’s astounding that so fluent a composer is barely represented in the discography, but this recording is the only music I’ve heard from the man. A scathing assessment by Fanfare’s Jerry Dubins suggests that Neukomm may be uneven: “[he] possesses the rare talent to make the art of music, indeed life itself, seem utterly meaningless … you might want to kill yourself after listening to Neukomm’s brain-dead music.” Gosh, I was feeling pretty good while listening to these string quintets, all dating from the 1810s and scored for two violins, two violas, and cello. They are remarkably adventurous because of their programmatic angle. For that matter, they anticipate a similar string quintet with descriptive titles: George Onslow’s “The Bullet.”

“Une Fête de Village en Suisse” (a festival in a Swiss village) was composed between 1816 and 1821. Neukomm even supplied his own program notes. There’s no question Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony is the stylistic and formal model. Neukomm’s material is loosely structured, rhapsodic, fragmented, and undergoes many tempo changes. The opening movement sets the stage with pastoral tranquility and festive merriment. Next is a noble “Larghetto,” essentially a hymn of thanksgiving, brimming with exquisite part-writing and gorgeous harmonies. Although the “Andante con moto” is initially carefree, tense tremolos herald impending disaster. Neukomm teases the listener a bit before unleashing a storm with whirling scales, wild dynamic fluctuations, and harsh tremolos. At the very end, Neukomm beautifully illustrates, via slow arpeggios, rays of sunshine penetrating the clouds. In the lengthy finale (13-minutes) the Swiss festival is in full swing with baying violin figures and a rustic waltz. This charming waltz is a recurring theme that pauses for interesting episodes of major-minor contrasts. There’s also a quiet hymn and pulsing unisons in pizzicato to emulate church bells.

L’amante abandonnée (The Abandoned Lover) might have been inspired by Beethoven’s “Les Adieux.” It represents the stages of love in three movements. The first, “Amour,” conveys a tempestuous journey of moods, from sweetness and yearning to agitated passions and grief. Neukomm’s material is dramatic and interesting, featuring exciting sequences and well-wrought, attractive counterpoint. In the second movement, “Infidélité,” Neukomm is less convincing in his programmatic approach. He uses a wistful French folksong as a springboard for variations. All of them are slow, gracefully contrapuntal, and even beautiful, but hardly evoke feelings of infidelity. The finale, “Désepoir” (Despair), depicts the lover’s psychological state and desperation. It opens with a pleading violin melody and then explodes with gusto, calming only to reminisce about blissful times before plunging back into unstable harmony and turbulent repeated notes. This culminates in what might be suicide in the final cadence; what else could those violent stabs be?

Ensemble Les Adieux is the epitome of elegance and clarity of line; every harmony and voice in the texture is transparent. Natural sound and good recording quality.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Sigismund-Neukomm
Neukomm – Works & Recordings

Dotzauer – Chamber Music for Strings

Friedrich Dotzauer (1783-1860)
String Quintet in D minor, Op. 134
Canon in G major for 2 violins
Six Pieces for 3 Cellos, Op. 104
Three Etudes for Cello Solo (Op. 155 No. 2; Op. 54 No. 6; Op. 158 No. 2)
Quartet in F major for Cello Obbligato, 2 Violins and Viola, Op. 64

L’Archibudelli & Smithsonian Chamber Players
Vera Beths, violin
Jody Gatwood, violin
Lisa Rautenberg, viola
Anner Bylsma, cello
Kenneth Slowik, cello
Steven Doane, cello

 (1994) – TT 73:56


From the Weber-Onslow-Spohr Axis – Melodious, Virtuosic, and Fresh

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In a nutshell:
• Dotzauer was a cellist-composer of some renown in the 19th century and treats his instrument with partiality, much like Spohr and the violin. His style is pre-Romantic and echoes the sound of Weber, Spohr, and Onslow but with ample counterpoint.
• String Quintet in D minor, Op. 134 (1835) is scored for 2 violins, viola, and 2 cellos and exudes memorable content, Baroque-like sequences, and imitative counterpoint in a dramatic panoply befitting the key of D minor.
• Quartet in F major for cello obbligato, 2 violins and viola, Op. 64 (1824) features a vigorous cello part and toe-tapping energy.
• Six Pieces for 3 Cellos, Op. 104 (1829) are of high caliber and noble purpose. There’s a wistful “Andante” of real beauty, an elegantly polyphonic “Pastorale,” a “Scherzo” with inventive use of harmonics, a profound and rustic “Adagio-Allegro,” an “Andante maestoso” reminiscent of Mozart’s “Non piu andrai,” and a “Larghetto” that evokes the pathos of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.”
• Three Etudes for cello solo are brilliant and intense. Most arresting is the “Allegro” in A minor op. 155, no. 2, which sounds like a mixture of guitar shredding and Flight of the Bumblebee owing to its streams of low-register 16ths.
• L’Archibudelli & Smithsonian Chamber Players offer a sumptuous blend of beautiful stringed instruments. Anner Bylsma (cello) steals the show with his virtuosity and clean, effortless performances.
• Recorded sound leaves nothing to be desired.


Friedrich Dotzauer (1783-1860) remains a household name for cellists who still play his many pedagogical works, but for most of us, he will be a nobody. This progenitor of the “Dresden school” taught such cellists as Friedrich August Kummer, who passed on Dotzauer’s teachings to the great Bernhard Cossmann. According to the liner notes and other sources, Dotzauer was recognized as an important composer for his instrument, but apart from this release by Sony, none of his works (extending to op. 183) are recorded. Where are the enterprising cellists and record labels? Just from listening to this small sample of his output, I hear a gifted melodist and contrapuntalist with a talent for part-writing. One reviewer in 1830 noted, “Characteristic of Dotzauer’s compositional style is his predilection for a rigorous thematic development…” That is true and most salient in one sonata-allegro that embarks on a fugue for its development section.

Dotzauer composed over 20 string quartets, but just one string quintet. His D minor, Op. 134 (1835) opens with a serious and dramatic “Allegro” notable for its sequences and profusely contrapuntal makeup, culminating in a full-blown fugue in the development. The ensuing “Menuetto” has a memorable theme with quirky accents and chromatic figures resembling Onslow. Considerable lyricism envelops the “Poco adagio,” which also exploits pizzicato in interesting ways. Drama resumes in the “Finale,” a dark-hued and striving piece full of vivacious cello patter and rhythmic pep. There’s nothing stale or pedestrian in Dotzauer’s part-writing. This is true also in the Quartet for cello obbligato, 2 violins and viola op. 64 (1824). Despite its title, the cello is rather integral to the texture. It fulfills a soloist role in the propulsive “Allegro” and “Finale,” where florid filigree and exciting runs are common. The middle movements, a “Larghetto” and “Minuetto,” are testament to Dotzauer’s fluency with lavish, expressive harmony in the former and a subtle use of harmonics in the latter. Charming melodies and rhythms are plentiful throughout.

The Six Pieces for 3 Cellos, Op. 104 (1829) are well-wrought and consistently high in quality. Few would balk at the chance to hear three cellos immersed in a rich dialogue and these pieces never disappoint. Each is a jewel and demonstrates a master’s understanding of the cello. Even with three going at once, they have distinctive lines and character. There’s a wistful “Andante” of real beauty, an elegantly polyphonic “Pastorale,” and a “Scherzo” with inventive use of harmonics and irresistible tunes. The “Adagio-Allegro” juxtaposes a lofty and chromatic section with lively rustic passages. I was reminded of Mozart’s “Non piu andrai” in the “Andante maestoso,” which has a similar rhythm, plus an unusual walking bass line in pizzicato. This same pizzicato bass line is employed in the magnificent “Larghetto,” which resembles Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” to some extent and aims for expressive power and neo-Baroque melancholy.

The Three Etudes for cello solo are taken from various opuses. Each one is a tour-de-force and begs the question, why aren’t more cellists recording Dotzauer’s etudes? The “Allegro” in A minor, Op. 155, no. 2 sounds like a mixture of guitar shredding and Flight of the Bumblebee with its torrent of low-register 16ths whizzing by. The “Allegro non troppo” in B-flat major op. 54, no. 6 is a pleasing array of rising and falling patterns surrounding a main melodic line. The “Presto” in D major op. 158 no. 2 is an arpeggiated study in a dignified vein, redolent of the Baroque masters. Rarely have I heard such a gathering of beautiful stringed instruments like the L’Archibudelli & Smithsonian Chamber Players. The quality of tone and gorgeous blend are impressive. Naturally, Anner Bylsma steals the show with his virtuosity and clean, effortless performances. Recorded sound leaves nothing to be desired.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Friedrich-Dotzauer
Dotzauer – Works & Recordings

Fröhlich – String Quartets (Musiques Suisses)

Friedrich Theodor Fröhlich (1803-1836)
String Quartet in G minor (1826)
String Quartet in E major (1827/28)
String Quartet in C minor (1832)

Beethoven Quartett
Mátyás Bartha, violin
Laurentius Bonitz, violin
Vahagn Aristakesyan, viola
Carlos Conrad, cello

 (2015) – TT 72:04


The Swiss Schubert – Fine String Quartets Lavishly Contrapuntal and Lyrical

star-ratings-4

In a nutshell:
• Fröhlich’s string quartets are excellent works of their kind, amply contrapuntal, prone to flights of fugato, and in their tonal makeup resemble the quartets of Beethoven and Schubert.
• String Quartet in G minor (1826) references Haydn’s “Emperor” quartet in its opening, a gorgeous theme and variations, and concludes with a vigorous finale loaded with imitative counterpoint.
• String Quartet in E major (1827/28) stands out for its neo-Baroque “Scherzo” of virtuosic violin activity and an exciting “Finale” of intense verve and drama, reminiscent of Beethoven’s “Rage over a lost penny.”
• String Quartet in C minor (1832) sounds like an estranged cousin to Beethoven’s Op. 59, with a dark-hued “Allegro agitato” and a finale that is essentially a fugue of noble disposition.
• BeethovenQuartett is a polished and fine ensemble.
• Sound is good and the natural ambience is vivid.


Friedrich Theodor Fröhlich (1803-1836) is a tragic case of a young composer unrecognized in his native Switzerland and so unhappy with his lack of fame that he drowned himself at the age of 33. His failure to meet with public success is bewildering. These string quartets are quality works with the fresh lyricism of Schubert and the kind of deft contrapuntal writing that would have pleased Haydn. Fröhlich even references Haydn’s “Emperor” in his G minor quartet. One should be aware that this recording has an important rival: the Complete String Quartets by the Rasumowsky Quartett, a 2-CD set on CPO containing four string quartets, including the F minor, which is missing from the present release.

Fröhlich has a propensity to disregard convention with regards to form and length. His movements are taut, averaging 6 minutes, and his form is rarely traditional and difficult to pin down. These elements are manifested in the String Quartet in G minor (1826). Instead of a sonata-allegro for an opening movement, he begins with a theme and variations. His theme is introspective and noble with lovely contours, while the variations tend to be similar in their textures, either gently contrapuntal or showing off florid lines on the 1st violin. The “Largo cantabile” has the lyrical sweetness of Schubert and a fine interplay of strings, especially the cello. The “Finale” is in sonata form and generally serious. It begins with a growling bass figure in the cello and a stream of imitative contrapuntal figures, followed by a happier second theme with a catchy rhythmic shape.

The String Quartet in E major (1827/28) covers a wide emotional territory in its four concise movements. The opening “Allegretto” doesn’t appear to be in sonata form. It’s sunny and pleasing with each part exquisitely transparent in the texture. A more effective effort is the “Scherzo,” full of animated neo-Baroque violin patter, sequences, and lively fugato sections. This is fun listening. The “Adagio” swims in melancholy waters tinged with expressive depth, although not much remarkable about its melodic contours. For me, the “Finale” is the sterling achievement here: exciting, buoyant, and rushing headlong like Beethoven’s “Rage over a lost penny.” It then yields to extensive fugato, rises to dramatic intensity, and switches on a dime to repose as a new melody emerges at the end. Fröhlich is definitely unorthodox in his approach to form; nothing is formulaic with him.

Schubert and Beethoven loom over the String Quartet in C minor (1832), which sounds like an estranged cousin to the Op. 59. The “Allegro agitato” is mostly sober with a dark-hued 1st theme and a lovely, yearning 2nd theme. This is followed by a warm “Andante” and an ebullient “Scherzo” with unusual accents, pauses, and deceptive cadences revealing Beethoven’s influence. I was also reminded of late Beethoven in the “Finale,” which is a substantial piece of self-contained music; dignified, suspenseful, and embarking on a fugue for most of the movement. Several fugue subjects appear and there’s moments that evoke the grandeur, if not quality, of a late Beethoven fugue. BeethovenQuartett is a polished and fine ensemble, although I haven’t heard their other recordings. Sound is good and the natural ambience is vivid.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Friedrich-Fröhlich
Fröhlich – Works & Recordings

P. Scharwenka – Violin Sonatas

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900)
Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904)
Suite op. 99 (1896)

Natalia Prishepenko, violin
Oliver Triendl, piano

 (2016) – TT 65:50


Gloomy and Passionate Violin Sonatas Midway Between Brahms and Franck

star-ratings-5

In a nutshell:
• Philipp Scharwenka, brother of the more famous Xaver, writes in a cosmopolitan style drawing upon Brahms, Liszt, and Franck.
• If you enjoy serious chamber music in the late German Romantic dialect, the two dark and dramatic violin sonatas are recommended.
• Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900) is a masterpiece with lush chromatic harmony, passionate violin writing, and somber colors.
• Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904) exudes similar intensity and luxuriant harmony in a Brahms-meets-Franck idiom.
• Suite op. 99 (1896) is less interesting because of its lighter salon vestiture. Apart from the gripping and virtuosic “Toccata,” the other movements—a gentle “Ballade,” upbeat “Intermezzo,” and conventional “Tarantella” aren’t very inspired.
• Natalia Prishepenko (violin) exerts a beautiful tone and expressive force in her playing, while Oliver Triendl (piano) is among the greatest accompanists recording Romantic chamber repertoire today.
• Sound is close and surprisingly good for so obscure a label.


Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) gets short shrift next to his more successful brother, Xaver. Anchored almost entirely in academia, Philipp held teaching positions at various conservatories; Otto Klemperer was the most famous of his students. His autumnal German Romanticism is an interesting divergence from his brother’s extroverted salon idiom. I’ve heard only one other recording of Philipp’s music: the piano trios. They are good if a bit uneven, but these works for violin and piano are decidedly better. In particular, the two violin sonatas have full-blooded power and a dark lyrical beauty to them.

From what little I’ve heard from Scharwenka’s pen, I can tell the Violin Sonata in B minor op. 110 (1900) is a masterwork in his output. Lush harmony, passionate violin lines, and a thick piano accompaniment are constants in this meaty composition. The opening “Allegro” is shot through with intensity and the thematic material is imposing: a 1st theme peppered with tritones and unstable tremolos, followed by a magisterial 2nd theme of profound lyricism. In the “Largamente,” somber moods still prevail but in a sparser texture. An extremely chromatic piano part is set against a pitiful almost pouting violin line. Only in the finale do rays of sunshine break through. The ebullient trilling violin and high-register piano filigree leave the darkness of the prior movements a distant memory.

The Violin Sonata in E minor op. 114 (1904) is cut from the same cloth. Intense emotions, luxuriant harmony, and yearning passion characterize the first movement, which has all the late Romantic beauty of Franck. Likewise, the ensuing “Andante tranquillo” is deeply expressive through its melancholy and piquant chromaticism. While the finale lacks memorable melodies, its animated rhythms and stormy violin writing keep things interesting.

Less compelling on this program is the Suite op. 99 (1896), an antithesis of the two violin sonatas and garbed in salon vestiture. Still, the suite makes a strong first impression in the invigorated “Toccata.” Scharwenka wisely balances piano and violin, giving both parts exciting ideas: the violin is charged with double stops and intricate patter, while the piano punches through the soundscape with thick repeated chords and a constant flow of arpeggios. I don’t think the other movements have much inspiration, though. The “Ballade” is a gentle romance, the “Intermezzo” a peppy staccato-laden miniature, and the “Recitativ und Tarantella” a showpiece for the violin.

Performances are exemplary. Violinist Natalia Prishepenko gives a high caliber debut recording, showcasing these pieces with aplomb and assured technical ease. She is supported by Oliver Triendl, a treasured accompanist and one of the best currently recording Romantic repertoire.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Philipp-Scharwenka
Scharwenka – Works & Recordings

P. Scharwenka – Piano Trios & Cello Sonata

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
Piano Trio No. 1 in C-sharp minor, Op. 100 (1897)
Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, Op. 112 (1902)
Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 116 (1898)

Trio Parnassus
Wolf-Dieter Streicher, violin
Michael Gross, cello
Chia Chou, piano

 (1994) – TT 64:02


Serious German Romanticism Lacking Melody and Staying Power

star-ratings-3-5

In a nutshell:
• Philipp Scharwenka, brother of the more famous Xaver, writes in a cosmopolitan style drawing upon Brahms, Liszt, and Franck.
• Piano Trio No. 1 in C# minor is the most arresting of the program; solemn, intense, and laden with expressive gravity.
• Piano Trio No. 2 in G major has classical restraint and Mendelssohnian verve, plus a ripping and energetic finale.
• Cello Sonata in G minor is in one movement and explores pathos and drama, but the material isn’t all that memorable.
• Elegant and straightforward performances by Trio Parnassus and good recorded sound.
• I think Philipp’s dark and dramatic violin sonatas are his most accessible and likable works I’ve heard so far.
• I would marginally recommend this disc to chamber enthusiasts who like investigating the periphery of the literature. At the same time, I would encourage exploring these other superior lesser-known piano trios first: FranckSabaneyevLekeuGraener, and Röntgen.


Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) gets short shrift next to his more successful brother, Xaver. The two had very dissimilar styles. Philipp, a professor at various conservatories (Otto Klemperer was his pupil) was austere and embraced academic German Romanticism, while Xaver preferred the extroverted salon idiom of Chopin and Liszt. Having heard three recordings of Philipp’s chamber works, I think his output in this field is uneven. In the opinion of the critic Hugo Leichtentritt “Philipp Scharwenka is an absolute master of composition. His violin and cello sonatas, his string quartets, piano trios and piano quintet belong to the most perfect and tonally beautiful works of their type.” Well, I don’t know about that. His violin sonatas made a great impression on me and his piano quintet is imposing, but the cello sonata and 2nd piano trio aren’t at the same level.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in C sharp minor, op. 100 (1897) is the outstanding work here because of its consistently intense Romanticism and lush expressive ideas. It opens with mystery and sadness marked “Lento patetico” and has accretions of tension and yearning that finally erupt into major climaxes. A fast and dramatic scherzo section with a more virtuosic piano part provides textural contrast. The finale exudes urgency and momentum, supported by a fetching theme. Next up, the Piano Trio No. 2 in G major, op. 112 (1902), is a serious work of noble and classical restraint, but not quite appealing by way of memorable thematic ideas. Overall, this work is a bit dry and pedestrian in its effects. The restless opening movement balances tension and buoyancy in a classical mode beholden to Mendelssohn. The second movement aims for a mood of sweet remembrance and melancholy lyricism, but is largely forgettable. An influx of quality occurs in the finale, which is dramatic and pressing in its momentum and rhythmic energy. And that’s the finest movement of this trio. It’s not a bad work, but neither it is very compelling.

The Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 116 (1898) is less rewarding and has fewer memorable moments than the trios, although it shows some originality in its form. It is conceived as a single continuous movement in multiple sections. The mood is sober and melancholy most of the time and frequently embarks on extended cello cadenzas. Faster and brighter sections provide some relief from the minor-key introspection. Here is a case where the form is more interesting than its content, which doesn’t have the sharply-drawn themes of Philipp’s violin sonatas. Performances are fine, as Trio Parnassus is a seasoned ensemble with excellent chops. Recorded sound is good and up to MDG standards.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Philipp-Scharwenka
Scharwenka – Works & Recordings

P. Scharwenka – String Quartets & Piano Quintet

Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917)
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 117 (1910)
String Quartet in D major, Op. 120 (1910)
Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 118 (1910)

Mannheim String Quartet
Andreas Krecher, violin
Shinkyung Kim, violin
Niklas Schwarz, viola
Armin Fromm, violoncello

 (1999) – TT 79:53


Dry and Flimsy String Quartets – The Dramatic Piano Quintet is Worth Hearing

star-ratings-3-5

In a nutshell:
• Philipp Scharwenka, brother of the more famous Xaver, writes in a cosmopolitan style drawing upon Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Liszt.
• All three of these works were composed in 1910 and are conservative for their time, drawing upon Mendelssohn and Schumann. Both string quartets are light and academic without much to recommend them. But the virile and fiery Piano Quintet is genuinely inspired and thrilling.
• String Quartet in D minor, Op. 117 is the weakest of the two, muted in expression and dynamics, and only animated in the vigorous finale.
• String Quartet in D major, Op. 120 is a little better, but still light and restrained. The slow movement achieves a certain degree of profundity and pathos, while the finale has enough verve and busy patter to excite the ear.
• Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 118 is big-boned, passionate, and a welcome addition to the genre. The piano writing has brawny and Brahmsian traits, and the content is serious and quite stormy compared to the placid string quartets.
• Philipp’s dark and dramatic violin sonatas are his most accessible and likable works I’ve heard so far.
• Performances by the Mannheim String Quartet are elegant and serviceable, but I wish they injected some energy into the string quartets.


Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) gets short shrift next to his more successful brother, Xaver. The two had very dissimilar styles. Philipp, a professor at various conservatories (Otto Klemperer was his pupil) was austere and embraced academic German Romanticism, while Xaver preferred the extroverted salon idiom of Chopin and Liszt. Having heard three recordings of Philipp’s chamber works, I think his output in this field is uneven. I love his violin sonatas, but struggled to enjoy these string quartets. I disagree with the critic Hugo Leichtentritt who praised them as “the most perfect and tonally beautiful works of their type.”

Both string quartets are disappointing. They’re light, dry, and lacking sharply-drawn thematic material. The String Quartet in D minor, Op. 117 (1910) is the weakest of the two and downright boring (I hate to say it, but there’s no better word). Its opening “Allegro moderato” has moments of agitation and frequent imitative counterpoint, but the rest of it is plodding and flat. The sunny “Intermezzo” has a pastoral character with airy and rapid figures, but not a single melodic thread of interest. I had high hopes for the slow movement marked “In memoriam,” but this hushed, almost static piece is rather cold, apart from a few delicate wisps of tenderness. Only the finale has any oomph thanks to its zesty repeated notes and galloping rhythms.

String Quartet in D major, Op. 120 (1910) sees an incline in quality owing to a couple good movements. As a whole, it is classical, restrained, and epigonic in the fashion of Mendelssohn. A quiet and lifeless “Allegro moderato” doesn’t offer much; nor does the genial and innocuous “Tempo di minuetto.” For once, though, Philipp vents his emotions in the “Andante tranquillo e mesto,” a soft, despairing plea, contrasted against long stretches of consoling strains. The composer’s muse does not phone it in here. Up to now, dynamic levels have rarely gone above mezzo-forte, but the finale is a loud and exuberant affair with attractive melodies and counterpoint.

After these unimposing string quartets, the Piano Quintet in B minor, Op. 118 (1910) is a welcome change, full of bold, impassioned writing and drama. The first movement is restless and its themes convey suspense. Fragile lyricism and deep feeling permeate the “Adagio con intimo sentimento,” featuring a gentle twinkling piano part floating above the shimmering angelic strings. In some passages, Philipp’s harmony is starkly chromatic and it’s clear he’s not looking to Mendelssohn, but Liszt or Franck. The finale begins with many unpredictable mood swings—dark, vague, or ebullient—before bursting forth with a heroic theme that sets the stage for a stormy essay punctuated by releases of tension and frothy patter. This is an excellent piano quintet and a shocking reversal of quality after the string quartets. Performances by the Mannheim String Quartet are elegant and serviceable, but I wonder if they couldn’t inject some energy or expressive juice into the string quartets.

  hex-icon
~Hexameron


Philipp-Scharwenka
Scharwenka – Works & Recordings