Piano Quintet in e minor, Op.3
For Piano, Violin, Viola Cello & Bass (Trout Instrumentation)
Labor's Op.3 Piano Quintet in e minor dates from 1912 and is for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass. This is the so called “Trout” instrumentation, taking its name from Schubert’s famous Trout Piano Quintet for the same combination. The impetus for it, no doubt, was Labor’s friendship with Frantisek [Franz] Simandl, a fellow Czech who was a virtuoso bassist whom most considered to be the equal of Dragonetti. Simandl was solo bassist with the Vienna Philharmonic for over 30 years and died in 1912 after a protracted illness. Labor dedicated the work to Simandl as a tribute and it is one of the few such works where the bass has an extremely important part with many solo passages and chances to lead the group.
The four movement work begins with a powerful and sweeping Allegro. The parts are integrated seamlessly and the melodies are compelling. Next comes a playful, light-hearted Scherzo, Allegro vivace, with two highly contrasting trios. The second trio is marked “Mit humor, basso buffo” and here the bass leads the entire way. For vitually the first half of the third movement, Andante, the cello alone, with the support of only the piano and very occasionally the violin, sings the gorgeous and highly romantic main theme, surely one of the longest solos in the literature. In the middle section, the bass takes over with a somber and plodding, march-like melody which is then heightened with help from the viola. The movement ends with the bass taking the lead again. The finale, Allegro ma non troppo, after a short thrusting introduction, begins with a hard driving and exciting theme which breaks loose with great forward motion. The bass is given powerful short solos bursting with energy as the moods alternate between dramatic and gentle romanticism. The works ends with a hyper dramatic and masterful coda.
Josef Labor (1842-1924), who was born in the Bohemian town of Horowitz and blinded by smallpox at the age of three, was, as a result, sent to Vienna to study at the Institute for the Blind. His precocious musical talent resulted in his being sent to study at the Conservatory of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. For several years he had a career as a concert pianist and then later studied organ and today is mostly remembered for his compositions for that instrument. Labor knew and was on friendly terms with virtually every musician of importance in Vienna as well as many others living elsewhere, including Brahms, Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Clara Schumann, Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter.
In our opinion, this quintet is a masterwork--Although there are other quintets for this combination by such composers as Jan Dussek, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Louise Farranc, Franz Limmer and Hermann Goetz, there are few from the late Romantic era. Josef Labor’s is not only the best from this period but certainly can stand comparison to any of the others Long out of print, it is with pleasure that we reintroduce this wonderful music and warmly recommend it to professionals and amateurs alike.