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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: February 1992
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell & Robert Menzies
Release date: December 1992
Total duration: 33 minutes 33 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)

'Immerse yourself in this set of 12 CDs of Brahms's chamber music … in the last 25 years, Hyperion has managed to persuade some of the finest of chamber musicians to reveal their affection for Brahms in recordings of remarkably consistent quality … altogether life affirming music in life enhancing performances: surely one of the best buys of the year?' (BBC Music Magazine)

'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)

'Stellar artists, fine sound, splendid presentation. Superb!' (ClassicalSource.com)

String Quartet in A minor, Op 51 No 2
composer
preliminary version circa 1865; published by Simrock in 1873; dedicated to Theodor Billroth, though probably written for Joseph Joachim

Allegro non troppo  [12'28]
Andante moderato  [9'20]

Other recordings available for download
Takács Quartet
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It was Brahms’s early biographer Max Kalbeck who first drew attention to the significance of the fact that the opening theme of the A minor String Quartet Op 51 No 2 was centred around the notes F–A–E—an apparent allusion to Joachim’s personal motto, ‘Frei, aber einsam’ (‘free, but lonely’). Those notes are followed by a rhythmically more strongly defined motif which is to become the focus of much attention during the movement’s central development section. The main theme itself has a ‘rocking’ accompaniment in triplet rhythm on the viola; and the viola is to resume that same rhythm as a background to the gently swaying second subject in the major (sempre mezza voce, grazioso ed animato is Brahms’s evocative performance direction). As for the little motif that follows Joachim’s motto, the seamless transition from development to recapitulation sees it smoothed out; and it is this smoother version that is subsequently used to launch the movement’s quicker coda.

Whether or not Brahms was consciously aware of it, the theme of the slow movement is essentially an inverted form of the opening Allegro’s second subject. The sonority in which the theme is first heard is of a leanness that might have appealed to Haydn. It has the melody entrusted to the first violin, while viola and cello accompany with a smoothly flowing line moving in parallel octaves. Following this two-stranded texture, the full quartet sound emerges only gradually. For his contrasting middle section Brahms again takes a leaf out of Schubert’s book, and writes a dramatic, agitated passage in the minor. But the outburst is short-lived, before the emergence of a resigned, warmly lyrical theme in the major. It is this new theme that will later be used to bring the piece to a gentle conclusion—but not before Brahms has presented a full-scale reprise of the opening theme in the ‘wrong’ key of F major. The false reprise, if such it is, is perhaps Brahms’s compensation for the fact that all four of the quartet’s movements are in the same tonality of A.

For his third movement, Brahms makes a nostalgic return to the world of the eighteenth-century minuet. But this is no straightforward minuet, and in place of a trio it has a delicate scherzo-like passage in a quicker tempo. It is, then, a dual-purpose piece of a kind more often found in Brahms’s three-movement works, where the centrepiece can function as slow movement and scherzo rolled into one—as it does in the Violin Sonata in A major Op 100 and the String Quintet in F major Op 88. In the A minor String Quartet the integration between the two opposing types of material is particularly subtle: the scherzo-like passage is briefly interrupted by a return to the tempo of the minuet—once again in the ‘wrong’ key; but rather than invoke the minuet’s actual theme, the intervention is based on the melodic outline of the scherzo.

The finale derives much of its tension from a metrical conflict between theme and accompaniment. The main subject gives the impression of being largely in duple metre, while its emphatic chordal accompaniment is in a firm triple time. The phrases of the theme’s second half, moreover, divide the 3/4 bar into two equal halves of one-and-half beats, so that the accompaniment, remaining very much on the beat, sounds more dislocated than ever. The conflict is resolved towards the end of the piece, where the theme is transmuted into a gentle, albeit syncopated, waltz in the major. But in the end Brahms will have none of such whimsy, and the music turns back to the minor, and hurtles inexorably towards an accelerated conclusion.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2007


Other albums featuring this work
'Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet' (CDA67551)
Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet
'Brahms: String Quartets Op 51' (CDA66651)
Brahms: String Quartets Op 51
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66651  Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42   Download currently discounted
'Brahms: String Quartets & Piano Quintet' (CDD22018)
Brahms: String Quartets & Piano Quintet
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 CDD22018  2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted  

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