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Hermann GOETZ (1840-1876)
Piano Quintet in C minor Op. 16 [23:43]
Piano Quartet in E Major Op. 6 [39:41]
Pro Arte Quartet
Paul Marrion (double bass)
rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 2003
Originally released on ASV in 2004 as ASV1157

I am really happy to review this disc: I had a copy of the original ASV release before it disappeared from my collection. I have the CPO discs of Goetz’s, including the two-CD set of piano chamber music (999 086-2) by the Göbel Trio Berlin and friends. Still, there was always something about this recording that made me long to have it again.

Hermann Goetz was born in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). His early introduction to music came through the great Austro-German tradition of the classical and early romantic composers popular at the period. He began to study mathematics in the local university before giving this up to travel to Berlin. There, he studied piano and composition with Hans von Bülow at the Stern Conservatory. He then moved to Switzerland where he became an organist, pianist, teacher, critic, and also began to make a name as a composer. His career was cut short when he contracted tuberculosis and died four days before his thirty-sixth birthday.

Musically, Goetz was no trailblazer. The echoes of Mendelssohn’s mature style are clear, even though he admired the likes of Brahms, Liszt and Wagner. All Goetz’s music that I know has a great sense of lyricism, and shows a composer fully at home in the romantic idiom. Yes, it shows the influence of Mendelssohn, and to a lesser effect Schumann, but he takes these influences and develops them into his own unique and very attractive style.

There are few recordings of his music. A look at online sales sites shows much duplication. When it comes to his operas, especially the work by which he was kn own for a long time, Der Widenerspenstigen Zähmung, we find just two recordings released by more than one record label. However, the two works presented on this disc boast no fewer that four distinct recordings. That is not surprising since the E Major Piano Quartet is often described as Goetz’s unsurpassed masterpiece, and the C minor Quintet is the ideal partner on disc.

The Quintet is scored for the unusual combination of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass, with the top and bottom strings often paired together in octaves. The first movement opens with a short slow introduction on the strings before the piano enters and gradually leads into the main theme. The theme had me hooked from the very first time I heard it. It is developed throughout and dominates the whole movement even after the introduction of the second theme. It has also proved very popular at my talks at local recorded music societies.

The Quartet, as already stated, is Hermann Goetz’s masterpiece. It is rhythmically very strong. Perhaps only the Symphony comes near the piece for musical grandeur. It was composed in 1867, some seven years before the Quintet, yet it embodies the summation of Goetz’s compositional style. This is again a very lyrical and melodious work, especially the first movement. The second movement is a complex series of variations with differing key changes. The third movement has an expressive trio section, whilst the finale begins slowly and quietly like the opening of the Quintet, before a more lyrical song-like theme takes over. A truly splendid and underrated work, one that deserves to be prominent in the repertoire.

The playing of the Pro Arte Quartet is excellent throughout. They are members of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ Chamber Ensemble, as is Paul Marrion, the double bass player in the quintet. One certainly gets a sense that these performers are used to each other’s style of playing, and they play with greater degree of ensemble than the Göbel Trio Berlin and friends on CPO. Their tempi vary. The Quintet is a bit quicker and the Quartet a little slower than on the CPO disc, but their playing is lighter and more expressive than the Göbels’. So, this recording is for me the clear winner, even with the CPO recording of the other works taken into account.

The recorded sound is excellent, as are the booklet notes. Daniel Jaffé composed an excellent introduction to the composer and his music. This disc is a fine starting point for all those who do not know Hermann Goetz’s music – his highly attractive style shines through – and for the followers of the romantic road less travelled.

Stuart Sillitoe


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