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Quintet in B Flat Major

Rimsky-Korsakov Quintet for piano and winds (1876)

Rimsky-Korsakov’s chamber music includes five string quartets, a piano trio, a string sextet, various wind pieces, and the quintet for piano and winds recorded here. He composed both the sextet and quintet in 1876, and submitted them for a chamber music competition promoted by the Russian Music Society. The prize was awarded to a piano trio by the Czech composer Eduard Nápravník (1838 – 1916). In Rimsky-Korsakov’s own words: ‘The jury found my sextet worthy of honourable mention, but disregarded my quintet entirely, along with the works of the other competitors. It ws said that Leschetizky had played Nápravník’s trio beautifully at sight for the jury, whereas my trio had fallen into the hands of Cross, a mediocre sight-reader, who had made such a fiasco of it that the work was not even heard to the end. had my quintet been fortunate in the performer, it would surely have attracted the jury’s attention. Its fiasco at the competition was undeserved, nevertheless, for it pleased the audience greatly when Y. Goldstein played it subsequently at a concert of the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society’.

The composer’s own description of the quintet is interesting enough to quote here. ‘The first movement’, he wrote (in his autobiography Chronicle of my Musical Life, first published in 1909), ‘is in the classical style of Beethoven’ – by which he presumably meant that it had two contrasting themes (the second of them, introduced by clarinet, horn and bassoon, more palpably Russian in idiom than the first) and was worked out in sonata form. ‘The second movement’, he continued, ‘contains a fairly good fugato for the wind instruments, with a free accompaniment on the piano’ (it is framed by a poetically conceived Andante in F that opens with a horn solo, the fugato itself being in F minor). ‘The third, in rondo form, contains an interesting passage: an approach to the first subject after the middle part: flute, horn, and clarinet in turn, play virtuoso cadenzas [in fact the order is horn, flute, clarinet] according to the character of each instrument, and each is interrupted by the bassoon entering in octave leaps; after the piano’s cadenza [marked brillante] the first subject finally enters in similar leaps on the bassoon.’ He concluded that the quintet was ‘free and more attractive than the sextet’, even though it did not express his ‘real individuality’. At least he can have the posthumous satisfaction of knowing that nowadays Nápravník’s name is virtually unknown outside musical dictionaries.

©Robin Golding

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