Hyperion Records

String Quartet in A minor, Op 51 No 2
composer
preliminary version circa 1865; published by Simrock in 1873; dedicated to Theodor Billroth, though probably written for Joseph Joachim

Recordings
'Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet' (CDA67551)
Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet
'Brahms: String Quartets Op 51' (CDA66651)
Brahms: String Quartets Op 51
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66651  Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42   Download currently discounted
'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)  
'Brahms: String Quartets & Piano Quintet' (CDD22018)
Brahms: String Quartets & Piano Quintet
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99 CDD22018  2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted  
Details
Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Track 5 on CDA67551 [12'40]
Track 5 on CDA66651 [12'28] Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42
Track 5 on CDS44331/42 CD3 [12'28] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 5 on CDD22018 CD1 [12'28] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted
Movement 2: Andante moderato
Track 6 on CDA67551 [8'39]
Track 6 on CDA66651 [9'20] Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42
Track 6 on CDS44331/42 CD3 [9'20] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 6 on CDD22018 CD1 [9'20] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted
Movement 3: Quasi menuetto, moderato – Allegro vivace
Track 7 on CDA67551 [5'03]
Track 7 on CDA66651 [5'02] Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42
Track 7 on CDS44331/42 CD3 [5'02] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 7 on CDD22018 CD1 [5'02] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted
Movement 4: Allegro non assai
Track 8 on CDA67551 [6'48]
Track 8 on CDA66651 [6'43] Archive Service; also available on CDS44331/42
Track 8 on CDS44331/42 CD3 [6'43] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 8 on CDD22018 CD1 [6'43] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Deleted

String Quartet in A minor, Op 51 No 2
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It was Brahms’s early biographer Max Kalbeck who first drew attention to the significance of the fact that the opening theme of the A minor String Quartet Op 51 No 2 was centred around the notes F–A–E—an apparent allusion to Joachim’s personal motto, ‘Frei, aber einsam’ (‘free, but lonely’). Those notes are followed by a rhythmically more strongly defined motif which is to become the focus of much attention during the movement’s central development section. The main theme itself has a ‘rocking’ accompaniment in triplet rhythm on the viola; and the viola is to resume that same rhythm as a background to the gently swaying second subject in the major (sempre mezza voce, grazioso ed animato is Brahms’s evocative performance direction). As for the little motif that follows Joachim’s motto, the seamless transition from development to recapitulation sees it smoothed out; and it is this smoother version that is subsequently used to launch the movement’s quicker coda.

Whether or not Brahms was consciously aware of it, the theme of the slow movement is essentially an inverted form of the opening Allegro’s second subject. The sonority in which the theme is first heard is of a leanness that might have appealed to Haydn. It has the melody entrusted to the first violin, while viola and cello accompany with a smoothly flowing line moving in parallel octaves. Following this two-stranded texture, the full quartet sound emerges only gradually. For his contrasting middle section Brahms again takes a leaf out of Schubert’s book, and writes a dramatic, agitated passage in the minor. But the outburst is short-lived, before the emergence of a resigned, warmly lyrical theme in the major. It is this new theme that will later be used to bring the piece to a gentle conclusion—but not before Brahms has presented a full-scale reprise of the opening theme in the ‘wrong’ key of F major. The false reprise, if such it is, is perhaps Brahms’s compensation for the fact that all four of the quartet’s movements are in the same tonality of A.

For his third movement, Brahms makes a nostalgic return to the world of the eighteenth-century minuet. But this is no straightforward minuet, and in place of a trio it has a delicate scherzo-like passage in a quicker tempo. It is, then, a dual-purpose piece of a kind more often found in Brahms’s three-movement works, where the centrepiece can function as slow movement and scherzo rolled into one—as it does in the Violin Sonata in A major Op 100 and the String Quintet in F major Op 88. In the A minor String Quartet the integration between the two opposing types of material is particularly subtle: the scherzo-like passage is briefly interrupted by a return to the tempo of the minuet—once again in the ‘wrong’ key; but rather than invoke the minuet’s actual theme, the intervention is based on the melodic outline of the scherzo.

The finale derives much of its tension from a metrical conflict between theme and accompaniment. The main subject gives the impression of being largely in duple metre, while its emphatic chordal accompaniment is in a firm triple time. The phrases of the theme’s second half, moreover, divide the 3/4 bar into two equal halves of one-and-half beats, so that the accompaniment, remaining very much on the beat, sounds more dislocated than ever. The conflict is resolved towards the end of the piece, where the theme is transmuted into a gentle, albeit syncopated, waltz in the major. But in the end Brahms will have none of such whimsy, and the music turns back to the minor, and hurtles inexorably towards an accelerated conclusion.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2007

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67551 track 8
Allegro non assai
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-07-55108
Duration
6'48
Recording date
24 May 2007
Recording venue
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Brahms: String Quartet & Piano Quintet (CDA67551)
    Disc 1 Track 8
    Release date: November 2007
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