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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67471/2
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 G minor Quartet (No 1) opens simply, with Hamelin shaping the line beautifully but unaffectedly, the Leopold players gradually entering, their playing filled with ardour. The Zigeuner-finale is irresistibly ebullient, with a jaw-dropping ending … the other aspect that is so impressive about these readings is the sense of absolute precision, which lightens the textures and keeps edges crisp … Hamelin and the Leopold get to the heart of the matter in the soulful Poco Adagio and while they in no way lack heft when it's needed, particularly in the opening movement, there's always a dancing quality to their playing which does much to illuminate textures' (Gramophone)

'The Scherzo of the C minor Piano Quartet (No 3) is dispatched with dazzling brilliance yet never sacrifices the music's underlying sense of stress and anxiety. Even more stunning is Hamelin's fingerwork in the Ronda alla Zingarese of No 1 in G minor, the playing outstripping all rivals in terms of its blistering pace and unbridled aggression' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Hamelin can produce an authentically chunky Brahmsian sound when requried. But his liquid beauty and delicacy of touch ensure that the strings are never overwhelmed. There is vigour and passion aplenty, too … you will hear more sumptuous performances of the vast A major Quartet, but few that sing as tenderly or bring such a dancing, Schubertian grace to the scherzo & finale. In the C minor, conceived under the shadow of Schumann's final illness, Hamelin and the Leopold Trio catch all of the first movement's brooding, youthful despair and keep the tense night-ride of a scherzo fleet and airborne' (The Daily Telegraph)

'A delight from start to finish: this is such cultivated and characterized playing, which becomes quite exultant in the finale. It's also beautifully recorded by Hyperion. Given that, this new set can take a well-earned place at the top of recommendations of these three works' (International Record Review)

'A typically lucid, expressive performance' (The Sunday Times)

'I doubt we will ever hear better recorded performances of the three piano quartets than we have here … Kate Gould's cello in the moving slow movements of Nos 2 and 3 is breathtakingly beautiful, while in No 1, Marc-André Hamelin's verve and articulation will make you smile and scratch your head in wonder' (Classic FM Magazine)

'It's a pleasure to say that these new recordings are just as fine, if not better, than any I've heard … pianist Marc-André Hamelin (so distinguished in his numerous concerto and solo recordings for Hyperion) knows just when to stretch a phrase or lighten a chord … while always sensitively rendering his part in relation to the strings … the Leopold String Trio's intelligent use of vibrato and portamento gives a perfect finish to its already attractive tone. Together with Hamelin, the results are magic … if you think you know these works, think again: these are performances to challenge you afresh' (Limelight, Australia)

'Dans les Intermezzi op.117, le poids de l'attaque restitue magnifiquement le parfum de chaque harmonie, l'exactitude de l'articulation fait ressortir la beauté de chaque voix, la sobriété de l'expression respecte totalement l'intégrité de chacun de ces trois joyaux. Marc-André Hamelin montre ici à qui ne le saurait pas encore, avec beaucoup plus d'évidence que dans son récent Concerto no 2 du meme Brahms, qu'il sait être bein plus qu'un formidable pianiste' (Diapason, France)

'La réunion de l'excellent Leopold String Trio avec l'étonnant virtuose qu'est Marc-André Hamelin promettait donc beaucoup … subtil et impétueux, le pianiste canadien se révèle presque toujours exemplaire' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

'Impossible de résister à l'attrait qu'exerce la musique de chambre de Brahms, avec ses épanchements contrôlés, sa force lyrique doublés d'une connaissance magistrale des possibilités techniques de chaque instrument … les 3 Intermezzi pour piano seul en fin de disque offrent un bis poétique et tendre' (Pizzicato, Germany)

'Das Klavier ist die Stütze des Fort-gangs, das tragende Element; und mit Hamelin am Klavier gelangt diese Einspielung zu einer Intensität, die Brahms als Neuerer mit Blick auf sinfonische Größe in der Kammermusik und als großartigen Klangkünstler darstellt—so sollte Brahms klingen, nicht anders' (Ensemble, Germany)

'This is bracing, high-voltage stuff, with phrasing and razor-sharp articulation that positively command attention … these are richly integrated, profoundly organic performances of epic scope … this is a magnificent release by any standards' (Piano, Germany)

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: The Complete Chamber Music' (CDS44331/42)
Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
MP3 £35.00FLAC £35.00ALAC £35.00Buy by post £40.00 CDS44331/42  12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  

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