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There must be something about the Romantics and chamber music. It is something I remarked with such "minor" composer's as Xaver Scharwenka (see my recent reviews of Chamber Music Complete), the obscure Polish composer Julius Zarebski (he died young, but had time to write a beautiful Piano Quintet, Juliusz Zarebski & Grazyna Bacewicz: Piano Quintets), the Russian and Tchaikovsky-epigone Arensky (he wrote a magnificent Piano trio, worthy of if not better than Tchaikovsky's, Trio in D Minor, Op. 32 (Kalmus Edition)), but also the French Romantics not best known for their chamber music, like Alkan, Lalo and Saint-Saens - to say nothing of those whose chamber music is indeed recognized and recorded more often, like Franck (but ever heard his youthful piano trios, Franck: Trios & Sonata [Gran Duo, Andantino]?), Chausson, Fauré: when it comes to chamber music, there seems to be no "minor" Romantic composer: they all sound like major composers, and Fibich's Piano Quartet op. 11, written in 1874 when he was 24, is another good case in point.
While Fibich's symphonies are agreeable and enjoyable, they don't display much personality either, and constantly send you on the game of trying to put a name on what the music reminds you of: Brahms, Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Schumann often come to mind (see my reviews of Fibich: Symphony No. 1 in F major, Op. 17; The Tempest, Op.46 and Fibich: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3). Not that this is absent from his chamber music works, and, as with Mozart and Haydn and the "Classical style", there are common stylistic traits among romantic composers from the center of Europe. But in its outer movements the Piano Quartet unfolds the wealth of emotion, the pouring melodies, the élan and sweep, the combination of searing lyricism and turbulent drama of the best Brahms and Schumann. The middle movement, a theme and variations, take a little longer to step out of the comfortable realm of the tender and merely charming: and that happens at the 6th variation, at 5:47. But above all, Fibich at 24 possessed the art of moving mercurially, within the same phrases, between major and minor, and even combining them simultaneously, creating a constant ambiguity of mood, from anguished and agitated to spirited and triumphant. Partly because of its unusual combination of piano, clarinet, horn, violin and cello, the Quintet op. 42 is, overall, more sunny and carefree and may not be on the same Brahmsian and Schumannesque heights as the Piano Quartet, but it is a very enjoyable work nonetheless, with some some echoes echoes of Brahms' horn and clarinet trios, a finale whose piano introduction sounds straight out of Schumann but soon evolves in a merry and playful mood, and a fiery and motoric scherzo traversed by two trios, the second (starting at 3:40) having a great rustic character over a guitar-like cello playing pizzicati. In the liner notes you read that it was Fibich's last chamber work, written in 1894 when his love affair with a former pupil of his was "in full bloom". Well, if you didn't know, you heard it in the music.
The scores can be downloaded from the International Music Score Library Project, bless them. The performers seem perfectly on top of the music, 2001 recordings, good sound, TT 63:00.