In concert – CBSO Centre Stage: Mozart and Brahms Quintets


Mozart Horn Quintet in E flat major K407 (1782)
String Quintet no. 1 in F major Op. 88 (1882)

CBSO Soloists: Mark Philips (horn), Philip Brett and Charlotte Skinner (violins),Christopher Yates and Catherine Bower (violas), Arthur Boutillier (cello)

CBSO Centre, Birmingham
Thursday 3 February 2022 2pm

Written by Richard Whitehouse

The Centre Stage series, featuring musicians from City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, continued this afternoon with an attractive coupling of quintets written exactly a century apart and which are among the most characteristic works of their respective composers’ maturities.

His first piece for the virtuoso Joseph Leutgeb (quite frequently the butt of Mozart’s scabrous humour, though for whom he went on to write four concertos) the Horn Quintet remains one of Mozart’s most engaging chamber pieces – not least through the presence of two violas that yield additional tonal depth to the lively outer Allegros, besides reinforcing the limpid pathos of the Andante. A little reticent toward the outset, Mark Philips came into his own during that central movement with its wistful poise and elegant interaction with those middle registers of the strings. Nor was there any lack of wit in the scintillating finale, its writing for the horn of no less agility than that found in the parallel movements of Mozart’s concertos; all the while suggesting the association between composer and musician was, after all, an endearing one.

Although he had originally intended his Piano Quintet to be a string quintet with two cellos, Brahms only got round to composing what became his First String Quintet as he was nearing fifty. Eschewing both the immediacy of his sextets and the austerity of his quartets, this piece typifies the ruminative warmth but also the expressive ambivalence of his music henceforth – not least an opening movement whose emotional surges are kept in check by the burnished richness of ensemble. The highlight, of the work as of this performance, is a slow movement that offsets its underlying introspection with two scherzo-like episodes whose effervescence carries over the finale – an Allegro of an impetus not so often encountered in Brahms’s later music, while culminating in a coda such as reinforces the home-key with exhilarating effect.

Such, at any rate, was the impression left by an assured and involving performance of a piece which conveyed the extent of this ‘dark horse’ among Brahms’s chamber compositions. Next week sees an ensemble from the CBSO tackle the epic expanse of Schubert’s String Quintet.

You can read more about that next Centre Stage recital, and book tickets, on the CBSO website

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