Brahms: Piano Quartets

Hyperion is proud to present as its Record of the Month for November electrifying new performances of the three Brahms Piano Quartets: the celebrated Leopold String Trio is joined by Marc-Andé Hamelin.

The G minor quartet (1861—actually Brahms’s second foray into the genre) offers a heady mix of unbridled gypsy vigour cast within a musical architecture of symphonic mastery, characteristics not lost on Arnold Schoenberg who later made an orchestral arrangement. The following year saw the premiere of the A major quartet, Brahms himself at the piano in offering to the world a work which would be hugely popular during his lifetime before falling inexplicably to the periphery of the repertoire in recent times.

It was over a decade later, in 1873/4, that Brahms returned to his aborted C minor quartet: ‘Imagine a man who is just going to shoot himself, for there is nothing else to do’, wrote composer to publisher of this profoundly moving score. Much of the 1850s material is recast, and the resulting quartet is a tense masterpiece terminated by a cadence of perfunctory abruptness. Unsatisfied fatalism triumphs.

This generously filled set is concluded with the Op 117 Intermezzos for solo piano. One of four late groups of piano pieces Brahms composed with his beloved Clara Schumann very much in mind, these exquisite miniatures find an eloquent interpreter in Marc-André Hamelin.

The recorded sound here is astonishing, both in its immediacy and raw energy: every passionate nuance of Brahms’s Romantic vision is perfectly captured. Awards can be expected.

CDA67471/2  140 minutes 41 seconds (2 discs)
‘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 i ...
‘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 fingerw ...
‘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 aplen ...