Georgy Catoire & Ignaz Friedman quintets – alike yet different

Russian composer Georgy Catoire remains relatively unknown. His self-effacing nature kept his music out of the spotlight, and himself out of the company of other composers. The 1914 Piano Quintet in G minor shows the effect of that isolation.

While it’s a late-Romantic work, it’s also a forward-looking one. Catoire methodically lays out his themes and develops them in a Brahmsian fashion. His harmonies are — for the era — a little sparse. In that sense, they seem to anticipate Debussy or Ravel.

The overall mix of instruments is also a little unusual. Many piano quintets are conversations between individual instruments. There aren’t any big solos here. Catoire treats the instruments almost like a chamber orchestra, using his five instruments in varying combinations to color his music in delicate hues.

Tchaikovsky called Catoire “someone who possesses genuine creative talent.” And it’s a unique one, too. Only through repeated listening could I appreciate the subtle details of Catoire’s creation.

Ignaz Friedman is best remembered as one of the leading piano virtuosi of the early 20th Century. His Piano Quintet in C minor was finished just after the First World War. The dramatically dark opening movement is thought to be a reaction to the war.

The international celebrity of Friedman is a stark contrast to the reputation of the reclusive Catoire. And the character of their piano quintets also varies greatly.

Friedman gives the piano plenty to do, as one might expect. His melodies spin out over rich harmonies. At first listen, it may all seem like post-Romantic over-indulgence. But listen closer. Friedman has something substantial to say. Although Friedman’s music is showier, it’s also well-constructed. Like the Cantori quintet, Friedman’s composition satisfies, just in a different fashion.

The assembled players perform with sensitivity and beauty. Pianist Bengt Forsberg does yeoman’s work in the Friedman quintet. It is a real challenge.

If you’re looking for chamber music that’s a little out of the ordinary, look no further. Although neither work is a concert staple, both are important works by talented individuals who couldn’t be more different.

Georgy Lvovich Catoire, Ignaz Friedman: Piano Quintets
Nils-Erik Sparf, Ulf Forsberg, violins; Ellen Nisbeth, viola; Andreas Brantelid, cello; Bengt Forsberg, piano

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