Frank Martin (1890-1974)
Piano quintet in D minor (1919)
César Franck (1822-1890)
Piano quintet in F minor FWV 7 (1879)
Martin Klett (piano)
Armida String Quartet
rec. 2022, Studio 2, Bavarian Radio, Munich
CAvi-Music 8553527 [58]

Piano quintets tend to be substantial affairs, as composers who put a pianist and a string quartet together want to give them something significant to play. It was Schumann who put the piano quintet on the map, and he was followed by Brahms, Dvořák, Fauré, and Shostakovich, to name only some of the best-known composers in the form. The Franck piano quintet is certainly one of these: it was the first of the three late chamber works which consolidated his reputation in the field, the others being the violin sonata and the string quartet.

Frank Martin’s piano quintet, on the hand, is much less well known. It is an early work of his, which means that his characteristic qualities of biting rhythms and pungent harmonies had not yet developed. What had was his fastidious ear, his ability to write long lyrical lines and the tone of slight melancholy which pervades much of his music. I am a fan of Frank Martin and was very glad to have this opportunity to hear his work.

Martin’s quintet is the first work here, and, although a more recent work, it works well as a prelude to the Franck. His idiom here indeed owes something to Franck, as occasionally also to Brahms and Ravel, but the debts are not obtrusive. The first movement is an Andante which begins with a yearning theme almost too like the opening of the Franck, but it then goes off in a quite different direction. The second movement is a minuet, light and delicate. The slow movement is a lament, featuring a triplet figure, while the finale is cheerful and episodic. This work is beautifully played and should win the piece new friends.

Franck’s quintet also gets a superb performance. I did notice that the pianist, Martin Klett, here practised a slight but noticeable desynchronization of his hands, a feature of some Romantic piano music and in good style for the idiom. In the long and passionate first movement I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the piano and the strings, and also the refusal to force the tone and the observation of the many indications for quiet playing. The slow movement, marked Lento, con molto sentimento, is magical, full of sentiment but without sentimentality. The finale is a fast and furious piece which goes with a will.

I greatly enjoyed these performances. None of the players were previously known to me, but I learn from the sleeve note that Martin Klett already has a number of recordings to his name, while the Armida Quartet won a competition in 2012 and since have developed an international career and a growing discography which includes a complete cycle of the Mozart quartets. The recording is good and sleevenote informative.

This is the only version with this coupling. Recordings of the Martin are rare: there was a good one by the Britten-Pears Ensemble some years ago on ASV, but that is now out of print and secondhand copies are scarce and fetch high prices. The Franck has been better served. There is a fine old (1985) version by Collard and the Muir quartet in a Franck collection now on Warner, an excellent more recent one by Pascal Rogé and the Ysaÿe Quartet with the String Quartet and Violin Sonata on Ysaÿe Records and, most recently, a coupling with the String Quartet by Dmitry Abglobin and the Eliot Quartet on Genuin, which I nominated as a recording of the year in 2022. These others are all fine but this is a very rewarding coupling.

Stephen Barber

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