The Strad Issue: February 2016
Description: Garlitsky and students take on two Romantic string quintets
Musicians: Boris Garlitsky, Jaha Lee (violins) Kyoungmin Park, Georgy Kovalev (violas) Philip Graham (cello)
Composer: Brahms; Dvorák

The expansive and eager theme that opens the second of Brahms’s string quintets is one of the most notable passages in chamber music, and offers the students at the Villa Musica Rheinland-Pfalz scope to display their warm and full tonal qualities. The disc is the product of a week of intensive rehearsal that scholarship holders share with professors – in this case violinist Boris Garlitsky – who come from around the world as mentors at Engers Castle in Germany’s Rhine valley.

Here we have a fresh-faced Brahms performance from a multinational student quartet that implicitly recreates the composer’s wide dynamic markings in naturally flowing and unexaggerated tempos. The refined and rounded tone quality of the young German cellist Philip Graham distinguishes the slow movement, and is equally eloquent in a lovely reading of Dvorák’s Third Quintet, the group’s interpretation – with a vivacious finale – revealing the rapprochement of themes derived from the composer’s American sojourn with a yearning for his Czech homeland.

All very rewarding and enjoyable, though throughout I am troubled by moments of uneasy intonation, particularly from the leader’s chair, and for that reason alone I cannot recommend this well-recorded disc over so many outstanding performances in the catalogue.

David Denton