Johann Wilhelm Wilms Piano Quartets receive their due

Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) only wrote two piano quartets (that we know of), and they conveniently fit on one CD. German-born Wilms was a major musical figure in the Netherlands As a contemporary of Beethoven, his fame remained more regional than international.

A contemporary reviewer called Wilms a “practiced composer versed in compositional technique.” That’s an accurate assessment, and that technique is on full display in these recordings.

Wilms was an accomplished pianist (and flutist). And he strikes the right balance between the instruments. Writing for the piano quartet was a challenge. Violinists tended to relegate the piano to an accompanying role for the string trio, pianists the reverse.

Wilms’ piano parts are sufficiently meaty, but in both these works, all instruments share the gravy.

The Piano Quartet in C major, Op. 22 was published in 1808 but probably composed much earlier. Stylistically it reminded me of very early Beethoven. The general outline is Mozartian. But the instrumental textures are thicker, and the overall music has a heavier feel to it.

Historically, Wilms’ music forms a bridge from Haydn and Mozart to Mendelssohn and Schumann. His Piano Quartet in F major, Op. 30 is closer to the early Romantics than the late Classicists. The harmonies have more chromatic inflections, and the themes are far more expansive. Both quartets take about a half-hour to play. The first has four movements, the second only three.

The Valentin Klavierquartett deliver first-rate performances. Pianist Isabel Lhotzky plays with dexterity and precision, making the piano part sparkle at times. Inka von Puttkamer (violin), David Ott (viola), and Hanno Kuhns (cello) are equally adept in making the most of Wilms’ score. And there’s a lot there to explore.

Well versed in compositional technique, indeed. The balance Wilms maintains between piano and strings isn’t often heard — even in the works of greater masters.

Johann Wilhelm Wilms
Two Piano Quartets
Valentin Klavierquartett
CPO

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