SIBELIUS Quartet, 'Voces Intimae'; Piano Quintet
This enterprising Somm CD had me digging out the Gabrieli Quartet’s excellent identical pairing with Anthony Goldstone from two decades ago. Like the Gabrielis, the Coulls prove unflashy, dedicated and profoundly humane interpreters of the great D minor Quartet, steering a satisfying middle course between the Budapest’s urgently communicative and fleet-of-foot account and the intrepidly epic view espoused by the Fitzwilliam Quartet. The Coulls are scrupulously faithful to both the letter and spirit of the score, and their pacing throughout strikes me as pretty much spot-on, especially in the deeply felt Adagio di molto centrepiece, where both the Gabrieli and Fitzwilliam are perhaps inclined to linger a little too respectfully. In fact, my sole tiny quibble concerns the overlong gap between the first and second movements, which surely scuppers the intended impact of Sibelius’s attacca marking. Otherwise, I have nothing but praise for a display so full of wisdom and musicality.
Completed in 1890 during Sibelius’s period of study in Berlin, the early Piano Quintet is likewise cast in five movements and already displays a sense of scale and raw ambition that point the way forward to Kullervo. Sibelius himself was scathing about the piece, describing it as “absolute rubbish” in a letter to his firiend Werner Söderhjelm. If no forgotten masterpiece, it does constitute a most agreeable discovery and contains more than its fair share of endearing invention (it’s not hard to detect Dvo∑ák’s kindly presence in the slow movement, for example). Both teams give of their considerable best, though to my ears it’s Roscoe and the Coulls who better disguise the work’s tendency to sprawl. Incidentally, these newcomers play the movements in published order (Goldstone and the Gabrielis elect to place the second-movement Intermezzo after the central Andante and Scherzo). No grumbles, either, with Somm’s flatteringly ripe sound and judicious balance. Acquire with confidence!