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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: July 2005
Wathen Hall, St Paul's School, Barnes, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: November 2006
Total duration: 34 minutes 53 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)

Piano Quartet No 3 in C minor, Op 60
composer
1873/4; reworking of discarded Quartet in C sharp minor from 1854/5

Allegro non troppo  [10'56]
Scherzo: Allegro  [4'12]
Andante  [9'21]

Other recordings available for download
Marc-André Hamelin (piano), Leopold String Trio
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
For long, the unfinished C sharp minor Piano Quartet remained in the composer’s drawer. In the late 1860s Brahms showed it to his first biographer, Hermann Dieters, with the words: ‘Imagine a man who is just going to shoot himself, for there is nothing else to do.’ In 1873–4, however, Brahms took up the work afresh and radically revised it, the tonality dropping by a semitone, as the Piano Quartet in C minor Op 60. It is believed that Brahms recomposed the original finale to make it the scherzo; a new finale replaced it, and almost certainly the Andante is also new. Speaking about the end result to his publisher Simrock, Brahms still used the image of a man contemplating suicide, saying the cover should show a picture of a head with a pistol to it; and he hinted in various ways, both to Simrock and other friends, that the Quartet could be taken as a musical illustration of Goethe’s novel Werther (whose protagonist does indeed shoot himself because of his anguish over a married woman whose husband he admires: the parallel with Brahms’s situation with regard to the Schumanns is obvious). Even now he delayed for nearly a year before making the work public: the premiere finally took place in Vienna on 18 November 1875, with Brahms at the piano, Joseph Hellmesberger on violin, and the famous virtuoso David Popper on cello.

The first movement’s opening pitches us into a whirlpool of Romantic tribulation. The strings gasp out a two-note phrase that seems to speak the name ‘Clara’, and immediately unwinds a transposed version of Schumann’s personal ‘Clara-motif’. This is repeated in a different key before a stormy transition moves to a lyrical, Schubertian second subject whose self-contained melody immediately gives rise to a little group of four variations. The development is wrathfully strenuous; and in the recapitulation the group of variations is extended to project the music into a bitter, strife-torn coda that finally subsides as if exhausted.

The scherzo, in C minor, is a splendid movement in Brahms’s early vein of rhythmic dynamism. The tense, muttering figure of the opening dominates the proceedings. A plaintive, chant-like second theme is the only element with pathos enough to interrupt the powerful rhythmic drive. Unusually, there is no central trio section (a feature that supports the idea this was originally a finale); the movement is through-composed, building to an abrupt ending full of vehement defiance.

The song-like cello theme that begins the E major Andante, continued in a rapt duet with violin, brings emotional assuagement and calm. Here is the still centre of the work, encompassed in a broad sonata form with a dolce second subject in B major. The start of the recapitulation, with the cello melody now in octaves on the piano, accompanied by guitar-like pizzicati from the cello and viola, is wonderfully evocative.

A mood of anxiety and regret pervades the opening of the finale, a long violin solo against a relentless moto perpetuo quaver accompaniment. The quavers are augmented to form an irascible transition theme, and the second subject turns out to be an odd, quasi-religious chorale for the strings, with flippant (or perhaps cynical) rejoinders from the piano. There is a spectral air to the development, which brings about the intensified recapitulation, the piano eventually hammering out the chorale idea in a choleric C major. Then the movement gradually liquidates itself with a sense of exhaustion. The curt final cadence (Werther pulling the trigger?) indicates that the mood of unsatisfied fatalism has triumphed.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006


Other albums featuring this work
'Brahms: Piano Quartets' (CDA67471/2)
Brahms: Piano Quartets

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