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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: 50 minutes 7 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 2 in A major, Op 26
composer
first performed November 1862

Allegro non troppo  [16'25]
Poco adagio  [12'28]
Finale: Allegro  [10'10]

Other recordings available for download
Marc-André Hamelin (piano), Leopold String Trio
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The G minor Quartet was premiered in Hamburg in November 1861, with Clara Schumann at the piano and an ensemble including the distinguished Hamburg violinist John Boie. Exactly a year later, in November 1862, Brahms himself was the pianist in the premiere of the new Piano Quartet in A major Op 26, the performance taking place in Vienna with members of Joseph Hellmesberger’s Quartet. During his lifetime this was the more often performed of the two, but in the twentieth century the dramatic and fiery G minor Quartet tended to eclipse it; the A major Quartet is now one of Brahms’s more neglected major works. Certainly it is less obviously ‘exciting’ than the G minor—it is an altogether more poised and lyrical conception, laid out on an even broader, more symphonic scale. Three of its four movements are cast in sonata form, and their ‘heavenly length’ and extended melodic ideas testify to his study of the music of Schubert. Yet this superb work’s melodic richness is only one of its strengths; and the gypsy energy of the G minor, though no longer directed to merely picturesque ends, is still to be felt.

The first movement, one of Brahms’s largest and yet most serene sonata designs, opens with a theme presented in two rhythmically distinct halves (triplets in the piano, followed by more flowing quavers in the cello). These two ideas are apt for separate development, yet in combination they achieve a statuesque balance of force, and this double theme easily dominates the movement despite a rich cast of subsidiary melodies and figures; it has the last word, just as it had the first.

The slow movement is one of the most glorious Brahms ever conceived, a large but subtle ternary form articulating what Joachim called its ‘ambiguous passion’. The piano’s tranquil, song-like opening theme, and its gypsy-style cadential turn, are developed at length in ever-more floridly decorated statements. The piano is mysteriously shadowed by the strings, which Brahms keeps muted until the return of the main section: this throws the piano, with its desolate ‘Aeolian harp’ flourishes and ardent second theme, into unusual relief. There are anticipations here of the slow movement of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No 2, twenty years in the future. The muted sonorities return in the coda, hushing the openness of Brahms’s lyricism.

At first, the easily flowing crotchet motion of the next movement seems too mild for a scherzo, too plain for a character-intermezzo like the analogous movement in the G minor Quartet. Yet it proves apt for an inexorable build-up of immense melodic spans. A more animated rhythmic interest appears only with the transition passage that leads to the second subject. The central trio is based on a variant of this transition theme, now turned fiery and Hungarian but treated with ruthless discipline as a strict canon between piano and strings.

The last movement is not a rondo but another fully worked sonata design; its first subject, nevertheless, has plenty of the capricious Hungarian colouring we associated with the alla Zingarese finale of the G minor Quartet. Here, however, the exotic flavour and idiosyncratic rhythms are subordinated to an ample, unhurried overall form whose length proceeds, Schubert-like, from the sheer size of the melodic paragraphs involved. The Olympian mood of relaxed strength satisfyingly rounds off a work whose perfect mastery is all the more remarkable for being so consistently understated.

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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