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It turns out we needn't have worried: this combination's been tried and tested at the Verbier Festival in the Brahms, and at Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival for the Schumann, excellent preparation for six days of intensive work in Berlin in February 2002. There's an attractive historical link that neither of the note-writers can avoid bringing to our attention: Schumann wrote his Fantasiestücke Op. 88 for his wife Clara, and it was Clara Schumann who owned Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1, as she was the pianist for the first performance in 1861. Clara was the muse for these two works, and Martha Argerich follows in Clara's footsteps according to the accompanying essay...but in a very real sense it is Argerich who's first among equals here, her impetuous virtuosity and surging passion driving the performances.
Not that the others are overshadowed for a second, and that's the strength of this extraordinary gathering of talents; Argerich's fire, Kremer's character, Maisky's expressive freedom, Bashmet's beautiful viola sound: all are willingly offered up to the greater good, tempered and re-fashioned in Brahms that's all the better perhaps for the ensemble being subtly less than the sum of its parts. From Argerich's quizzical opening phrase to the expressive rubato in the Intermezzo, the impressive breadth of the slow movement, and the thrill of the explosive Hungarian finale this is one of those chamber music performances that resonates in the mind long after the last notes have died away.
There's a joy and warmth about the Schumann that makes detailed criticism irrelevant. Kremer and Maisky bring a fragile beauty to the lines of the Duett, caressing every phrase as though it were the loveliest thing they'd ever seen, while Argerich's support is delicate and tender, but never self-effacing.
This generous, exuberant music-making is immensely rewarding, it's very well recorded, and I hope it's not the last studio project we'll hear from this fab four; on this evidence they should clear at least a week a year to spend in each other's company for the foreseeable future.
Like This? Try These:
Schumann: String Quartets (Zehetmair Quartet)
Schubert: Piano Trio no. 2 (Florestan Trio)
Gidon Kremer: Happy Birthday --Andrew McGregor
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There you have it, I'm predisposed to dislike this recording!
This Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 comes as a pleasant surprise to me, then. The reading is very solid, musical, and well-played as a group. All the members of the quartet are aware of what the other players are doing. Take the lines at the halfway point of the Allegro: Argerich matches the fortitude of the cello with her left-hand playing and the delicacy of the violin with her right hand. Well done!
Another musical tenet that I hold is dismissing as bunk the naming of Brahms as the heir of Beethoven. Brahms is unfairly treated as "Beethoven the Second" by many conductors who try apply the grandiose phrasing of, say, Beethoven's Third to a piece such as the Academic Festival Overture. Strange that Beethoven is often over-Romanticized, and Brahms often over-Classicized!
Given these feelings, you'll find it strange that I regard this quartet as if it could be one of Beethoven's. Brahms' quartet has the same feel as many of Beethoven's late quartets. The mystery, the tension, the contrast, the sonority, the changing of phrasing from unison to individual and back, it's all there. Like Beethoven, Brahms has built a piece on the foundation of the Classical era with the emotional resonance of the Romantic era.
I wouldn't think of this as a violin showpiece either, but Gidon Kremer shines in the Rondo with his energetic phrases.
I would definitely recommend this recording of the Brahms Piano Quartet #1. My preferred recording will remain that of the Budapest String Quartet with Artur Balsam, but this is definitely a quality recording made better because of the new perspective that it gives me on the players and the piece.
I'm not a huge Schumann fan; I like the Fatasiestucke trio but it does not rival the Brahms quartet. It meets my expectations in this recording, and is a decent contrast to the Brahms.