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Brahms: Complete Piano Quartets / Faust, Giuranna, Meunier, Han

Brahms / Han / Faust / Giuranna / Meunier
Release Date: 08/28/2012 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 930404   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek HanIsabelle FaustAlain MeunierBruno Giuranna
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Originally recorded in 1996 (I’m guessing, but not positive, for Delos), these performances appeared on Brilliant Classics in 2003 as part of a 10-CD boxed set containing Brahms’s complete chamber music works. This pared down two-CD set extracts the three piano quartets. The four well-known players—all soloists on their own—come together here to form an ad hoc ensemble.

Brahms addressed himself to the piano quartet medium on three occasions, two fairly early in his career, relatively speaking, and one both early and later. The G-Minor and A-Major Quartets (born head to toe between late 1861 and early 1862) are fraternal twins. The op. 25, stormy and eruptive, with a wild Rondo alla zingarese finale, was the piece that
Read more Schoenberg—an early defender of Brahms against the “progressive” cabal—chose to orchestrate. In this guise, it was premiered by Otto Klemperer conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1938.

In contrast, the A-Major Quartet contains some of Brahms’s most lyrical and longing passages. Other than these two works, Brahms was not much engaged in the writing of chamber music around this time. Much of his effort in the years between 1859 and 1862—with the exception of the sets of Handel and Schumann variations for solo piano—was focused on vocal and choral pieces.

The C-Minor Quartet is one of those works that underwent Brahms’s surgical knife to emerge with a new and almost unrecognizable face. Like the B-Major Piano Trio, op. 8, which was drastically revised in 1889, 35 years after it was originally composed, the C-Minor Piano Quartet was radically altered in 1875. The original version was in C? Minor, and actually predates the G-Minor and A-Major Quartets by several years, having been first conceived in 1855.

Generally speaking, Brahms’s works in a given medium become shorter, more condensed, and more cryptic in chronological order. That is certainly true of the three piano quartets. The op. 60 is not only the shortest of the three, but its character is grim and its mode of expression terse, which makes us wish that the all-too-brief moments of melodic generosity would come more often and stay longer when they do arrive. Even the string repetition of the first movement’s second theme at 2:25 is reduced to a series of gestures rather than a full statement of the melody. But increasingly, this became Brahms’s way, until we reach the near stasis and silence of some of the late solo piano pieces.

The piano quartets are well represented in the catalog, and my preference is still for Domus, now available for only one dollar more as a two-disc set on Virgin Classics’s budget label. Still, these performances on Brilliant Classics are topnotch, the recordings have held up well, and at $9.99 for the two-disc set, it’s an irresistible bargain for any Brahms-lover.

-- Jerry Dubins, FANFARE [5/2007] Read less

Works on This Recording

Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano), Isabelle Faust (Violin), Alain Meunier (Cello),
Bruno Giuranna (Viola)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Venue:  Salle de la Fondation Tibor Varga, Sion, 
Length: 38 Minutes 45 Secs. 
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 3 in C minor, Op. 60 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Isabelle Faust (Violin), Alain Meunier (Cello), Derek Han (Piano),
Bruno Giuranna (Viola)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1875; Austria 
Venue:  Salle de la Fondation Tibor Varga, Sion, 
Length: 33 Minutes 8 Secs. 
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 2 in A major, Op. 26 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Isabelle Faust (Violin), Alain Meunier (Cello), Bruno Giuranna (Viola),
Derek Han (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Venue:  Salle de la Fondation Tibor Varga, Sion, 
Length: 45 Minutes 30 Secs. 

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