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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: 35 minutes 5 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 B flat major, Op 67
composer
1875/6; dedicated to Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann; first performed on 30 October 1876

Vivace  [9'10]
Andante  [7'24]

Other recordings available for download
Takács Quartet
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Having hesitated so long over his first two string quartets, Brahms managed to produce their successor without any protracted birth-pangs, and the fact that the new work was again dedicated to a well known physician prompted him to elaborate on the medical analogy. ‘I am’, he told Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann (the husband of the pianist Emma Brandes, and himself a keen amateur cellist) ‘publishing a string quartet, and may need a doctor for it (as with the first ones). This quartet rather resembles your wife—very dainty, but brilliant! … It’s no longer a question of a forceps delivery; but of simply standing by. There’s no cello solo in it, but such a tender viola solo that you may want to change your instrument for its sake!’

The new quartet was tried out by the Joachim Quartet at Clara Schumann’s house in Berlin before it was performed in public on 30 October 1876. Joachim wrote enthusiastically to Brahms: ‘Even you have scarcely written any more beautiful chamber music than in the D minor [third] movement and the finale—the former full of magical romanticism, the latter full of warmth and charm in an artistic form. But the original first movement and the concise, sweet-sounding Andante should not be overlooked, either!’

Brahms’s own simile of the Op 67 quartet as being as dainty as Frau Engelmann was apt: in marked contrast to its dramatic predecessors it is a work of considerable charm, and almost divertimento-like playfulness. In composing it Brahms may have had Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet K458 (also in B flat major) at the back of his mind—at any rate, it, too, begins with a ‘hunting’ theme in 6/8 time. On the other hand, the cross-rhythm that soon appears, dividing the bar into three slightly quicker beats in place of the prevailing two longer beats, is one of Brahms’s favourite gestures. The new rhythm anticipates the ingratiating second subject, with its ‘rocking’ figure, where there is an actual change of time signature, to 2/4. In the exposition’s closing bars, Brahms ingeniously manages to combine the two rhythms.

The slow movement has a theme of Mendelssohnian elegance and gracefulness, but there is also a more dramatic middle section that lends the proceedings symphonic tension. Brahms’s autograph score shows us that he initially conceived the piece in a straightforward form, with a conventional reprise in the home key. However, a last-minute change of heart led him not only to cast the concluding section as a variation of the opening melody, but also to launch it in the comparatively distant key of D major, allowing the music to regain the home key of F only shortly before the coda. Perhaps the unexpected switch in tonal direction was prompted by the second half of the initial melody itself, which touches momentarily on the chord of D major.

The third movement is the viola solo with which Brahms hoped to tempt Engelmann to change instruments; and in order to make its part stand out, the remaining three players use mutes throughout. As for the finale, it is a piece Brahms clearly remembered when he came to write his Clarinet Quintet in B minor. Like the last movement of that late work, it is cast in the form of a set of variations that gradually works its way around to reintroducing the theme of the opening movement. This, then, like the Clarinet Quintet, and like Brahms’s Third Symphony, is a work whose ending returns us, in circular fashion, to its starting-point.

The tiny variation theme itself has a harmonic twist in its tail: its first half cadences unexpectedly into D major, and the sound of B flat is reached again only in its final two bars. The first three variations stick closely to the theme’s harmonic outline, but the fourth turns to the tonic minor, and the fifth is in the closely related key of D flat major. Variation 6 moves into G flat major which means that the harmonic ‘twist’ now occurs on the home key of B flat. This, however, does not lessen the shock of the unceremonious plunge back into B flat for the following variation, where the tempo is doubled and the first movement’s theme reappears. (The implied tempo relationship between the outer movements would seem to dictate a decidedly quick speed for the first movement, if the variations are not to sound too sedate.) Nor is its initial theme the only material from the first movement to make a return at this point: the passage also recalls a mysterious moment in the minor that in the opening movement had heralded the arrival of the second subject. In the closing bars, the variation theme and the first movement’s ‘hunting’ subject are combined with deceptive ease, as though to highlight the hitherto hidden kinship between them.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2008


Other albums featuring this work
'Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet' (CDA66652)
Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66652  Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42   Download currently discounted
'Brahms: String Quartets Opp 67 & 51/1' (CDA67552)
Brahms: String Quartets Opp 67 & 51/1
'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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