The recent premiere after a delay of almost 40 years of Mieczysław Weinberg’s opera The Passenger, which was completed in 1968, heralded a renaissance of the music by the composer, who died in Moscow in 1996. One year after Weinberg, born to a Polish Jewish family, had settled in the Soviet Union with Dmitri Shostakovich’s support in 1943, he composed his large-scale Piano Quintet in F minor op. 18. Besides Shostakovich’s contribution to the genre, composed three years earlier, Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor op. 34 must have influenced Weinberg’s composition.
Like many works by Brahms, it reached its final form through several stages of development: in 1861 Brahms made a start on a string quintet, then wrote a version of the work for two pianos in 1864, before on Clara Schumann’s advice transmuting the work into its final form as a piano quintet. Echoes of chamber music pieces by Franz Schubert in Brahms’s Piano Quintet are unmistakable. He had tackled composing a string quartet late in 1820, but broke off the work after a few bars of the second movement. What has remained from this work is the Quartettsatz in C minor D 703, often deemed a chamber music equivalent to the Symphony in B minor, the so-called Unfinished. The interpreters of this chamber music programme are András Schiff – artistic collaborator of the Berliner Philharmoniker for many years, and a former pianist in residence – and the Jerusalem Quartet, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016.