Ludwig Thuille…Bohuslav Martinů…definitely not household names. But just because pieces are written by known composers doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy of being played as the Chicago Ensemble demonstrated with several piano quintets.
One can always count on the Chicago Ensemble to dig up buried musical treasures that one didn’t know existed. They presented two such rarities and one semi-staple Sunday afternoon at the International House at the University of Chicago, before an audience of abstainers from the Super Bowl.
All three pieces on the program were scored for piano quintet. The Chicago Ensemble’s artistic director Gerald Rizzer was the pianist, and the quartet consisted of violinists Stephen Boe and Renée-Paule Gauthier, violist Paul Vanderwerf, and cellist Andrew Snow.
The first forgotten work on the program was Bohuslav Martinů’s Piano Quintet No. 2, as fine a piece as this much-underrated composer ever penned. Written during Martinů’s wartime exile in the United States, the quintet displays both sides of his musical background. Folk-inspired melodies reflecting his Czech heritage are interspersed with motoric, driving sections reflecting his French Neoclassical training.
The second forgotten work on the program was the Piano Quintet in E-flat major of Ludwig Thuille, a friend and contemporary of Richard Strauss. Thuille died young in 1907, and his quintet’s distinctly fin-de-siècle flavor is like a hybrid of Strauss and Brahms. Although its tendentiousness mars any bid for masterpiece status, it nonetheless has many fine moments. These include a beautiful main melody in its Adagio and a whimsical pizzicato-led fugato in the development section of its finale.