An unusual coupling of composers that surprise and delight

Takács Quartet: Elgar, Beach

Takács Quartet: Elgar, Beach

The Strad Issue: August 2020

Description: An unusual coupling of composers that surprise and delight

Musicians: Garrick Ohlsson (piano) Takács Quartet

Works: Elgar: Piano Quintet. Beach: Piano Quintet

 Catalogue Number: HYPERION CDA 68295

If at first this may appear an unlikely coupling, then think again as both composers belonged firmly in the Brahmsian tradition, especially Amy Beach, whose F sharp minor Quintet of 1907 could almost have been composed in homage to Brahms’s piano trios, quartets and quintet. Yet despite its unmistakable debt of gratitude to the German master, the writing is so eloquently scored and structured that one is soon swept along in its wake, especially in a performance as impassioned, commanding and expertly engineered as this. Garrick Ohlsson possesses an all-encompassing technique that makes light of a score bristling in difficulties, while the Takács players – as witness the brief, Schubertian fugal episode in the finale – throw themselves into the fray with alacrity.

The Elgar Quintet, also cast in a relatively unconventional three movements, is interpretatively a much tougher nut to crack. Far less dependent on seamless paragraphs of impassioned cantabile to carry the day, it is a work in which Elgar at times seems to have built into the music an unsettling sense of deciding where it might go next. It has the capacity to surprise even the most dedicated Elgarian, and it is this tantalising quality that Ohlsson and the Takács prove especially adept at conveying. As a result, the music’s semantic obfuscations possess an almost tingling sense of expectation. An outstanding disc in every way.