Hyperion Records

Drei Quartette, Op 64
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Brahms published the set of Drei Quartette Op 64 in 1874, though the first of them, An die Heimat, probably dates from about 1862. This song is very elaborately laid out: Brahms draws a remarkable, motet-like range of colour from the four voices in harmony, treating them like a tiny chorus with canonic imitations, occasional solos and little a cappella passages; while to Sternau’s text, a conventional praise of the poet’s (unspecified) homeland, he brings a depth of feeling entirely understandable if—as seems likely—the piece was composed during Brahms’s first winter in Vienna, far away from Hamburg. There follows a setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Der Abend, a late poem full of Classical metaphor which Brahms ingeniously touches into life with a male/female dialogue for Apollo and Thetis and a haunting piano accompaniment mimicking the step of the sun-god’s horses; there is a moment of pure magic as the horses stop (the piano falls silent) and drink cooling draughts from the sea in long female-voice phrases. Op 64 concludes with a translation of a Turkish folk-poem made by G F Daumer, the poet of the Liebeslieder-Walzer, whose copious output of both original verse and translations from many languages Brahms often recurred to when choosing texts for setting. Fragen is a set of questions put to a lover (the tenor) by the other three parts, massed as a vocal trio. It develops into a tightly dovetailed dialogue, carried out with a sensitive mingling of humour and pathos.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009

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