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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: 16 minutes 0 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, Luxembourg)

'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)

Intermezzos, Op 117
composer
1892

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Three Intermezzi Op 117 are products of the final phase of Brahms’s creativity. They belong to the astonishing late harvest of short piano pieces that he composed in 1892–3 and published in four collections, Opp 116 to 119. Like the quartets they were written very much with Clara Schumann in mind, for she was destined as the first pianist to see them; but their moods are autumnal, as befits the utterances of nearly forty years of love and friendship. Op 117 could be considered a triptych of lullabies. The first, in E flat, is headed by lines from an actual Scots lullaby (the Border Ballad ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’) in the German translation of Johann Gottfried Herder—and its unforgettable tune, a middle voice gently rocked within a repeated octave span, fits the words like a glove. (This wordless setting of a Scots original parallels Brahms’s early D minor Ballade, Op 10 No 1, after the Scots ballad ‘Edward’). The central section descends to a dark E flat minor tonality which increases the poignancy of the lulling reprise, with its cunningly interwoven imitation.

The second Intermezzo, in B flat minor, wrings music of plaintive delicacy from a simple falling arpeggio figure that melts, with fluid grace, through a succession of tonalities: and the piece traces a miniature sonata design, with a more smoothly flowing second subject in D flat. Development and reprise merge into one another through spiralling arpeggio figuration: the coda finally imposes tonal stability in the shape of an uneasy pedal F, over which the second idea dies away.

Like the first piece the third Intermezzo, in C sharp minor, evokes a ballad character, though this time without a specifically indicated subject. This is a comparatively spacious movement, beginning sombrely and sotto voce with a quintessentially Brahmsian theme presented in severe octaves. On later appearances this melody becomes an inner voice against a rich harmonic background; there is a strongly contrasting middle section in A major, whose gently syncopated figuration and octave displacements create a twilit world of almost impressionistic gleams and half-lights. At once one of the darkest and most beautiful of Brahms’s late piano pieces, it is now believed to be an unacknowledged setting of another of Herder’s translations of Scottish poems, a love-lament beginning ‘Oh woe! Oh woe, deep in the valley …’, which Brahms had copied out on the same sheet as ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’. But all three of these pieces seem to have had some secret significance for him: they were, he told his friend Rudolf von der Leyen, ‘three lullabies for my sorrows’.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006

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