Reviews of some of the earlier releases that make up this set
Clarinet Quintet, String Quartets
Pathological self-doubt consigned twenty Brahms quartets to oblivion between 1853 and 1873. At forty, still awed by Beethoven (‘you have no idea how it feels,’ he lamented, ‘continually hearing such a giant behind you’), he adjudged his Op. 51 works worthy of publication, though Beethoven’s spectral presence lingered until the completion of his First Symphony and Op. 67 quartet in 1876. Op. 51/1, its turbulent emotions repressed behind austere polyphonic formalism, receives assured playing from the Britten Quartet. Here, and throughout this set, its taut, incisive manner, juxtaposing athleticism,Read more poignancy and physical stress, seems admirable.
The Juilliard Quartet, heard in the acoustically inviting Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in New York, has phenomenal empathy with the Brahmsian idiom; its accounts are more eloquently considered, passionately argued, and are imbued with an opulence which the Brittens never equal. Brahms’s personal maxim ‘Frei, aber einsam’ (‘Free, but solitary’), the dictum of his majestic A minor quartet, assumes lyrically imploring gravity here; first violinist Robert Mann, among the great quartet leaders of the century, has seldom sounded so beguiling.
Charles Neidich’s fastidiously cerebral account of the richest fruit of Brahms’s friendship with Meiningen clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, is exemplary. Neidich sounds aptly conservative beside Richard Stoltzman’s burgeoning RCA Victor performance with the Tokyo Quartet, while the Juilliard’s interpretations of the three string quartets are the stuff of charismatic greatness.
Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)
– Michael Jameson, BBC Music Magazine
The Juilliard's approach to nineteenth-century music always put first priority upon temporal control, with conventional expressivity and tonal elegance given subordinate value. It is that level of control which is the major factor of distinction in the present recordings of the quartets, which are set out with great poise and metrical subtlety. Robert Mann's increasingly creative dealings with the problems of intonational accuracy do not detract in any substantial way from the intensity of these performances.
Charles Neidich is gracefully intense, in consistently firm control of his contribution to the clarinet quintet. This performance is so thoroughly fine that it substantially elevates the desirability of the whole set. Clean, well-balanced, warm recording. Strongly recommended.