Magazine article Gramophone

Brahms: Three String Quartets

Magazine article Gramophone

Brahms: Three String Quartets

Article excerpt

Brahms

Three String Quartets. Piano Quintet, Op 34 (a) (a) Till Fellner pf Belcea Quartet Alpha (M) (2) ALPHA248 (150' * DDD)

In 2003 the Belcea Quartet recorded a nerves-on-a-knife's-edge account of Brahms's C minor Quartet (Op 51 No 1) for EMI. Here, more than a decade on, their conception retains its essential ferocity, though without quite so much exhausting franticness. Brahms's score has so much agitation written right into it--jagged melodic contours, motivic obsessiveness and gasping down-beats--that pushing hard is less effective than merely pulling taut. The fractionally broader perspective presented on this new Alpha recording is more satisfying, not only in its elucidation of detail--listen, for example, to the weight of the marcato passages in the first movement, beginning at 6'02"--but also in conveying warm affection. The slow movement is considerably more compelling here as a result, with enhanced sensitivity to harmonic subtleties.

In some respects, the Belcea's interpretation of Op 51 No 2 is more impressive still, carefully balancing rigour and spontaneity. Indeed, the musicians are often daringly free with tempo but to eloquent effect. Note the way they lean yearningly into the long notes of the first movement's second theme, or to the passionate impulsivity of the Andante moderato. What a surprise, then, that the opening Vivace of Op 67 sounds so rhythmically and emotionally strait-laced; there's none of the playful exuberance one hears in the Takacs Quartet's recording, for instance. …

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