Wuorinen’s PIANO QUINTET was commissioned by Lincoln Center for Ursula Oppens and the Arditti String Quartet who gave the first performances in Chicago and New York in February 1995. The work is cast in four movements (with the third and fourth movements performed without pause) of some 25 minutes.
The following is a quote from Paul Griffths’ program notes which accompany the Koch CD of this work (reissued on Naxos):
“There are four movements, of which the second is slow and the third, nodding to Brahms, is an intermezzo; equally traditional is the quasi-concerto aspect of the piece. But Wuorinen can accommodate those nineteenth-century qualities of style within a language whose roots are in Stravinsky, Schoenberg and American vernacular music, and where there are allusions also to the Baroque. In particular, this work … reconsiders the notion of ornament. Arpeggios and figures based on the repetition, whether direct reiterations of a note or tremolandos, put an intricate surface on the underlying play of forces, though it may seem just as well that the ornaments give the music its charge. Stuttering repeats increase the tension before an eventual release; arpeggios signal the harmonic process.
Among the more evidently thematic elements in the first movement, the most important are those heard in the piano right at the start: a rush of six notes rising through a minor ninth, the first wobbling gestures emphasizing this same interval as well as its inversion, the major seventh, and a turn played in unison with the viola. (Such points of meeting between piano and strings are relatively rare but always notable events.) Where this first movement races through, and by means of its notes, the second has them more as stepping stones — stepping tones, one might say, arid stepping chords. Then the relatively short and exuberant intermezzo winds back towards the point reached at the end of the first movement, a point from which the quick finale can begin. This leads at the end, though, into quite unexpected territory.”