Hyperion Records

Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, Op 25
composer
1857/61

Recordings
'Brahms: Piano Quartets' (CDA67471/2)
Brahms: Piano Quartets
'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)  
Details
Movement 1: Allegro
Track 1 on CDA67471/2 CD1 [13'53] 2CDs
Track 1 on CDS44331/42 CD5 [13'53] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 2: Intermezzo: Allegro ma non troppo – Trio: Animato
Track 2 on CDA67471/2 CD1 [7'58] 2CDs
Track 2 on CDS44331/42 CD5 [7'58] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 3: Andante con moto
Track 3 on CDA67471/2 CD1 [9'45] 2CDs
Track 3 on CDS44331/42 CD5 [9'45] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Movement 4: Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto
Track 4 on CDA67471/2 CD1 [8'05] 2CDs
Track 4 on CDS44331/42 CD5 [8'05] 12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor, Op 25
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The Piano Quartet in G minor Op 25, was seemingly conceived about 1857, drafted in 1859 while Brahms was employed at the small ducal court of Detmold, and polished up in Hamburg in 1861. The abandoned C sharp minor Quartet had been an out-and-out product of his years of youthful Romantic turmoil, of Sturm und Drang. The genesis of the G minor, by contrast, spans from the turbulent years of the mid-1850s to the more considered classical stance of Brahms’s late twenties. It combines a troubled Romantic vocabulary with a poised, almost symphonic mastery of musical architecture. Yet the finale, with its unbridled gypsy music, displays all the young Brahms’s taste for vigorous horseplay. The whole quartet seems continually to strive beyond its chosen medium, towards an orchestral sense of colour, scope of expression and range of development. (These tendencies were given full rein by Arnold Schoenberg when he arranged the work for large orchestra in 1937.)

The sombre, spacious first movement is the most searching sonata-structure Brahms had yet written. The outer spans of exposition and development, with their almost reckless expansion and length of themes, are held in balance by the ruthless concentration on the one-bar motif that is the foundation of the very first theme, continually raising the level of tension, in the development. The way the recapitulation reshuffles the principal elements is unparalleled in a major sonata-style work, even introducing a completely new idea. The coda, beginning hopefully with sweet tranquillo-writing for strings alone, blazes up in a passion only to gutter out quietly in implied frustration.

Brahms calls the C minor second movement an Intermezzo: one of the first examples of the species of (sometimes deceptively) gentle scherzo he was to make his own. A delicate, moderate-paced, rather subdued interlude full of expressive half-lights, its poignant understatement throws the larger movements into relief. It refers, obliquely, to his love for Clara Schumann: the main theme is a haunting version of Robert Schumann’s ‘Clara-motif’ (a characteristic five-note falling–rising melodic shape), which Brahms took over in several works for his private symbolism.

The E flat slow movement begins as a full-hearted song, but develops into a strutting, almost military march in C major. This colourful parade somehow resolves the expressive tensions that have shadowed the work up to this point, making possible the sheer animal vitality of the concluding Rondo alla Zingarese. Startlingly extending a tradition of ‘gypsy’ finales that goes back to Haydn, this is the most unbuttoned episode in Brahms’s long love-affair with the popular and exotic Hungarian idioms he had imbibed from his violinist friends Reményi and Joachim. The movement’s devil-may-care abandon, with its extremes of pulse, virtuosity and emotional affliction, suggest his tongue was at least half in his cheek; and the extravagant piano cadenza that forestalls the whirlwind coda seems to parody Liszt himself.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006

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