Pio Ricci’s “A Private Performance”, exemplifying the intimate nature of chamber music
December 18, 2019
Here are the top ten chamber music works you must hear. Chamber music refers to a small group of musicians, from two to 10 or so. It’s an intimate music form, with one person per line of music. (Orchestras, by contrast, have several players all doing the same line).
We consulted in our-house panel of music experts, and in no particular order, came up with the top ten chamber music works you must hear. We know there are so many more and we may have to re-visit this topic and do another list.
1) Schumann – Piano Quintet in E flat Major, Op.44
This is a bright, energetic work, and the first movement is romantic to its core. Some of the cello solos tug at the heart strings.
2) Gabriel Faure – Piano Quartet #1 in C minor, Op.15
The Faure String Quartet is passionate music of the Romantic era. It’s meaty, substantial, in some ways contradicting the stereotypical French aesthetic. Here’s the first movement.
3) Beethoven – String Quartet No. 14 in C# Minor (Op. 131)
“Ludwig called it his most perfect composition”. Check out the last movement, called “Presto” (which means breathtakingly fast”). It’s riveting.
4) Mozart – Clarinet Quintet K581
“While the clarinet dominates, all other instruments have prominent roles”.
Here’s the gorgeous second movement, as achingly lyrical without being saccharine. That’s Mozart for you.
5) Dvořák – Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor “Dumky”, Op. 90
We will always have his music which will evoke his heart beyond its physical form. The last movement of the “Dumky” starts out stormily, but the sun comes out and it’s one big Bohemian dance party.
6)Schubert – String Quintet in C major
Already rich for the addition of a 2nd cello, this is a work of epic proportions. To hear it all in one sitting has the same impact as watching an entire opera. That it was completed just 2 months before his death just adds to the wonder of it. Here’s the slow second movement, the Adagio, which makes your heart palpitate in the way only Schubert can.
7) Brahms – Piano Quartet in C minor
Ranging everywhere from flaming intensity to tender, intimate sweetness, this work makes best use of all its resources, not a wasted note. And its slow movement starts with one of the most breathtaking cello solos in the repertoire
8) Mendelssohn – Octet in Eb, op. 20
Scored for double string quartet, this is a tour de force. An infectious and practically orchestral opening movement, a mesmerizing slow movement, a practically magical scherzo and a ferocious fugue (that even quotes Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus). AND … it comes from one of Mendelssohn’s “peak” periods — when he was 16! Here’s the last movement – fill of zip and exuberance.
9) Debussy – Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp
Off the radar for most, this is a gem of innovation both embodying Debussy’s own ground-breaking style, and stunning variety of colour using three unlikely instruments. Bask in this gorgeous music.
10) Shostakovich – String Quartet No. 8
Shostakovich composed under incredible stress – he was denounced twice by the Soviet regime, and he smoked heavily and was obsessive compulsive. The strain of his life came through in his music, and you’ll hear it here in the first movement of his String Quartet No. 8.
11) Haydn – Lark Quartet.
You can’t have a chamber music top 10 without skipping Haydn, who defined the string quartet genre for composers to follow.
Here’s the the Finale of the Lark Quartet – quite the toe-tapper.