The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet
Composer: Schubert, Cramer

This period-instrument ensemble is named after Johann Nepomuk Hummel, whose Piano Quintet op.87 is believed to have inspired the particular instrumental combination used by Schubert for his ‘Trout’ Quintet. Its members are devoted to unearthing little-known works for this combination from various archives and incorporating them into their repertoire.

One such work is Johann Baptist Cramer’s Piano Quintet op.79, which gains no mention in most standard reference works. It demonstrates Cramer’s development from a style of conservative, Classical elegance to one of increased drama and virtuosity. Its spotlight falls chiefly on fortepianist Riko Fukuda, who rattles off much of its challenging passagework with enviable facility, even if an occasional unevenness or lumpiness interrupts the flow. The string contribution, too, is accomplished yet inconsistent, revealing much of the music’s expressive and dramatic range without sounding forced, but lacking that final sheen to make it memorable. Indeed, the close yet well-balanced recording tends to emphasise various imperfections of articulation, intonation and ensemble.

Similar comments apply to these artists’ account of Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet. They admirably reflect the work’s lyrical character and capture its contrasting moods with refreshing insights. They also display striking virtuosity, especially in the outer movements, but one cannot overlook the occasional rough delivery that spoils the musical end product. Schubert’s song theme is executed in a brisk, matter-of-fact manner and the variations, though largely well characterised, are not always accomplished with full authority. However, they realise the Andante with a rapt sensitivity and their scherzo is buoyant and spirited.