Pentaèdre the wind quintet whose Così: Un opéra muet, a transcription of selections from Così fan tutte, was one of the most delightful albums of 2007 is joined by accordionist Joseph Petric in its release of a chamber version of Winterreise. In this inspired arrangement, the group's oboist Normand Forget expands the colors of a traditional wind quintet by having an oboe d'amore substitute for the oboe, and having the flute, clarinet, and horn double other instruments.
It's the late Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121, that get the big print on the cover of this release by the awe-inspiring baritone Matthias Goerne, but actually the music on the album falls into a neat early-middle-late classification scheme. The group of middle-period settings of poetry by Heinrich Heine doesn't even get graphics on the cover, but these are fascinating. Brahms wrote a lot of songs, but you couldn't do better than the selection and performances here for a cornerstone collection item. Beyond the sheer beauty of Goerne's voice is an ability to shift gears to match how Brahms' style evolved. If you want to hear his real slashing, operatic high notes, check out the Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32, settings of poems by the minor poets Georg Friedrich Daumer and Karl August Graf von Platen. These rather overwrought texts add up to a kind of slimmed-down Winterreise, and they catch the spirit of the still-young Brahms with his strong passions, elegantly controlled. The Heine settings, which come from several different sets of lieder, are not that often heard and are in some ways the most compelling of the group here.