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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite performances of great music by a favourite quartet, 30 Sep 2010
Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Bishop's Stortford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Brahms: Complete String Quartets / Schubert: "Death and the Maiden", Quartettsatz (Audio CD)
I have long loved the Tokyo quartet. The only member remaining from their founding in 1969 is violist Kazuhide Isomura, but the Tokyo have maintained their special warmth and lyricism over forty years and through the changes in personnel, mainly in the first violin. Their qualities are an intensity which derives from subtle phrasing and dynamics without the need to sound frantic or driven and a miraculous balance within the consort whereby no member ever upstages another but each emerges then recedes as the music spotlights their role before requiring them to underpin another.

I remain mystified by the number of otherwise cultivated music lovers I encounter who claim to be repelled by Brahms. I have a theory that his uncompromisingly masculine mode of expression alienates many in an age which seems to prize androgyny and ambiguity - but maybe that sounds like sexist hogwash to more progressive sensibilities. All I know is that I find much of his music to be achingly beautiful in form and nobly heroic in intent - far from the dour whingefest which some judge it to be. These performances give his three great string quartets - sole survivors of goodness knows how many bonfires of juvenilia - the most persuasive advocacy imaginable and then for good measure provide us with the most apt and obvious forebear of and inspiration for Brahms' chamber music in the form of two of Schubert's masterworks. The dancing 6/8 melody in the "Quartettsatz" is wonderfully fluent and insouciant, holding off the menacing demons until at the last instant they breach its naive defences (so what a pity that they don't take the repeat). Likewise, in the Andante con moto" of the "Death and the Maiden", the filigree delicacy of the Tokyo's arpeggios in the third variation forms a telling contrast with the subsequent, defiant, ostinato variation. I could do with a tad more fire and attack in the grimly sardonic Presto which concludes the work, but the climax is satisfyingly frenetic and virtuosic.

This early 80's digital recording, made during an extended period of stability in personnel, here sounds ideal for conveying the lush, plush string tone which characterises the Tokyo Quartet; no glassiness, instead a round and ambient warmth rather than the clean, clinical acoustic typical of that period - although I do not wish to suggest that this obscures any necessary detail.

So much great music available at bargain price in a neat twofer. I shall keep my New World String Quartet super-bargain IMP single disc of the first two quartets because they too are fine performances and include the first movement repeats which the Tokyo unfortunately omit.
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