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Hyperion Records

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Postcard depicting Brahms composing his Symphony No 1 (c1900). Austrian School, 20th century
Private Collection / Archives Charmet / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDS44331/42
Recording details: April 1988
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: November 1988
Total duration: 34 minutes 3 seconds

'The pick of this crop has to be Brahms's Complete Chamber Music from Hyperion. Spanning more than two decades, this box contains the finest, mainly British, performances, some very recent … Brahms's two dozen chamber works are among his greatest achievements, and yield little or nothing in quality to the better known output of Mozart and Beethoven. This box contains much buried treasure' (The Mail on Sunday)

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'This magnificent 12-CD collection … Marc-André Hamelin and the Leopold String Trio find the right gypsy touch in the First Piano Quartet … the Florestan Trio is movingly intense in the piano trios … Lawrence Power's playing of the viola alternative to the clarinet sonatas is magical. And there's much more! A superb bargain' (Classic FM Magazine)

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String Sextet No 1 in B flat major, Op 18
composer
1860

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Brahms was twenty-seven by the time he came to write the First Sextet, an age by which his musical discretion was well able to resist the temptation to score too abundantly for the medium. His delight in composition can be understood from the outset as he explores the unusual sonorities at his disposal. His delight was perhaps heightened by his knowledge that composers of the eighteenth century preferred such larger ensembles for their divertimenti and other entertainment music. Brahms was increasingly interested in the use of ‘across the bar’ phrases of irregular length and he uses them here with delightful and telling effect. The beginning of the Sextet shows Brahms at his most adaptable since he altered it, on the advice of Joachim, in order to postpone the modulation to D flat until after the tonic key had been established. The first movement is in sonata form with an exposition that ends with the suggestion of a Viennese waltz which, at a slower tempo, draws the movement to a close.

The following Andante is a set of variations—another ancient form much loved by Brahms and of which he was a true master. The music is wonderfully imagined for the forces available and carefully avoids textures that could be mistaken for those of the string quartet. The first variation employs the time-honoured device of increasing the sense of movement by subdivisions of the music’s pulse.

The Scherzo is both vigorous and pithy, characteristics which are unusually continued in the trio section. Its similarity to the trio of the Scherzo in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has not escaped comment by critics.

The final Rondo owes not a little to Schubert and was criticized by Joachim for not being forceful enough in its concluding bars. He also, not without some justice, wished that Brahms had been able to achieve greater contrast between the first and second subjects. Nevertheless it concludes a fine work, not to be dismissed lightly, and certainly not as disdainfully as did Brahms himself in a letter to Clara Schumann which accompanied the manuscript of the first three movements. In it he entreated her to ‘burn the trash’ in order not to have the bother of returning it.

from notes by Peter Lamb © 2000

Other albums featuring this work
'Brahms: String Sextets' (CDA66276)
Brahms: String Sextets
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