BRUCH String Quintets and Octet
String players of a certain vintage might remember the excitement caused in 1991 by the publication of Max Bruch’s A minor String Quintet. ‘Rediscovered’ works can often disappoint; but if what you want from Bruch is that same blend of Brahmsian poetry and gypsy verve that makes the First Violin Concerto so lovable, the A minor Quintet has it to spare. Add a deep vein of melancholy (Bruch wrote the Quintet at the age of 80, in the weeks following Germany’s collapse in November 1918), and a sweet, sensuous nostalgia that anticipates Richard Strauss’s late style, and what we have here is probably Bruch’s finest string chamber work.
This is a superb account. The Nash Ensemble have a natural feeling for the music’s ebb and flow, and while they’re not afraid of big gestures and the bite of horsehair and rosin, they play beautifully as an ensemble, with the players responding to each other, and a real feeling of intimacy. Lawrence Power’s viola sings through the texture, and Stephanie Gonley, on first violin, never lets the alla ungarese brilliance of the finale turn into a mini-concerto.
They’re helped by Hyperion’s engineers, who’ve made a church acoustic sound as immediate as a drawing room, even in the quasi-orchestral textures of Bruch’s String Octet – which substitutes a double bass for the more usual second cello. The Nash Ensemble go at it with magnificent ardour and sweep, and bring an affecting tenderness to the slightest of Bruch’s late chamber works, the Mendelssohn-like Quintet in E flat. Together, these performances go straight to the top of a not exactly crowded field; in fact, this disc needs to be heard by everyone who loves German Romantic chamber music.