Brahms: The Complete Chamber Music
12CDs Boxed set (at a special price)CDS44331/42
Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegro
Movement 3: Andante
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro comodo
The first movement’s opening pitches us into a whirlpool of Romantic tribulation. The strings gasp out a two-note phrase that seems to speak the name ‘Clara’, and immediately unwinds a transposed version of Schumann’s personal ‘Clara-motif’. This is repeated in a different key before a stormy transition moves to a lyrical, Schubertian second subject whose self-contained melody immediately gives rise to a little group of four variations. The development is wrathfully strenuous; and in the recapitulation the group of variations is extended to project the music into a bitter, strife-torn coda that finally subsides as if exhausted.
The scherzo, in C minor, is a splendid movement in Brahms’s early vein of rhythmic dynamism. The tense, muttering figure of the opening dominates the proceedings. A plaintive, chant-like second theme is the only element with pathos enough to interrupt the powerful rhythmic drive. Unusually, there is no central trio section (a feature that supports the idea this was originally a finale); the movement is through-composed, building to an abrupt ending full of vehement defiance.
The song-like cello theme that begins the E major Andante, continued in a rapt duet with violin, brings emotional assuagement and calm. Here is the still centre of the work, encompassed in a broad sonata form with a dolce second subject in B major. The start of the recapitulation, with the cello melody now in octaves on the piano, accompanied by guitar-like pizzicati from the cello and viola, is wonderfully evocative.
A mood of anxiety and regret pervades the opening of the finale, a long violin solo against a relentless moto perpetuo quaver accompaniment. The quavers are augmented to form an irascible transition theme, and the second subject turns out to be an odd, quasi-religious chorale for the strings, with flippant (or perhaps cynical) rejoinders from the piano. There is a spectral air to the development, which brings about the intensified recapitulation, the piano eventually hammering out the chorale idea in a choleric C major. Then the movement gradually liquidates itself with a sense of exhaustion. The curt final cadence (Werther pulling the trigger?) indicates that the mood of unsatisfied fatalism has triumphed.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006