- Piano Quartet No. 1 in A minor, Op. 43
- Piano Quartet No. 2 in E major, Op. 44
- Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major, Op. 50
Nineteenth century German composer Friedrich Kiel isn't at the top of anyone's list of the musical giants, though he hasn't lacked for attention on recordings and even has a twenty first century publisher, Dohr in Cologne, to make the republication of Kiel's work a frontline priority. During his lifetime, Kiel was reckoned by some to be second only to Johannes Brahms in the composition of chamber music; however, since his demise in an unspecified "traffic accident" in 1885, Kiel's work and reputation haven't fared so well. Kiel doesn't even merit a biography in the encyclopedia Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians; Baker's Biographical Dictionary does mention him, but mainly for his importance as a teacher rather than for his compositions. Kiel composed three piano quintets, numbered Opp. 43-44 and 50 and published in 1867 and 1868, though were likely composed together and perhaps somewhat earlier. The best known of the three in Kiel's time was the First in A minor; this is also the longest of piano quartets and the most thematically varied. Superficially, they sound close to Beethoven, though they are in the main predictable, emotionally detached, and lacking in the profound psychological elements we experience in Beethoven. That's not to say these quartets lack strong themes, sensible development, attractiveness, and a kind of gracious charm; they do have such qualities, but they don't go much deeper than that. This is not due to a half-baked performance, as the pieces are rendered very well, and some may recognize the name of redoubtable violinist Ulrike-Anima Mathé among the participants, though the recording tends to favor pianist Oliver Triendl over the others. For those who have a deep abiding interest in nineteenth century chamber literature and the so-called "school of Brahms", this may well provide an interesting byway, but bear in mind that compared to Brahms, Kiel is something of a reactionary. It does no harm to revive the music of Kiel, and there are many composers unfairly judged in posterity whose work was found ripe for rediscovery at some point later. In the case of Kiel, though, the conventional wisdom seems to hold up, and if his main achievement was indeed in chamber music, one wonders why he wouldn't be able to "bring it" in a cycle of three piano quartets that appeared near the peak of his ability.