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Piano Concerto Op. 54; Piano Quintet op. 44.

Maria Joao Pires with Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Abbado and string quartet.
Deutsche Grammophon DG 463 179-2 62 mins.
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It was the Piano Quintet of 1843 which caught my attention in the release list, and it is the more compelling of these performances. Maria Joao Pires is well known as a sensitive pianist in the romantic repertoire and she gives an affectionate performance of the concerto, recorded 1997 in a Berlin church. It is very much a studio recording, immaculate, rather gentle and, dare I say, ladylike in manner. No harsh edges or ugly sounds, perhaps partly because of the venue, which tends to smooth things out a little. The orchestra plays well under Claudio Abbado. The piano is rather forward, inevitably these days, and the balance is false in concert terms; you can hear every note, which people expect (this consideration, one of continual debate, is in the forefront of my aural memory because I have just been listening to Pletnev play all the Tchaikovsky concertos at Royal Festival Hall see S&H review, 16 May ).

The quintet was recorded at Snape Maltings (a favoured recording venue) in October 1999, with Dumay, Capuçon, Caussé & Wang. It is not a favourite chamber work of mine, though it has kept its place in the repertoire, and it can easily sound routine unless the players are acutely responsive to balance. This performance really lifts off, with imaginative turns of phrase and spontaneous reactions from these distinguished players. The quintet was written for Clara, who premiered it and it has a lengthy funeral march for the second movement. Hints of an underlying, secret programme have been detected. It is rather more extravert a piece than the relatively reserved, introspective concerto, and has delightful scherzo and considerable brilliance in the outside movements. The sound is brighter and balance perfect, and I have never enjoyed this work so much before, nor been completely convinced of its stature - take my comments in the light of a preference for chamber music for home listening.

So, taken together, this unusual coupling makes the CD highly desirable, and not to be missed by Maria Joao Pires' many admirers.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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