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Brahms: Complete Chamber Music


Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  Brilliant Classics   Catalog #: 94381  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek HanIsabelle FaustBruno GiurannaAlain Meunier,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandis String QuartetTokyo String QuartetNash Ensemble,   ... 
Number of Discs: 12 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

These Brilliant Classics box set compilations really do appear to be going from strength to strength. This mammoth 12-disc box of Brahms’s complete chamber music is another feather in Brilliant’s cap. A glance at the above list will tell any discerning music lover that here are some truly world-class artists, and the performances throughout this set are, at worst, perfectly acceptable and, at best, truly exceptional. Comparisons are pointless here, given the box format and super-budget price, so I will review each disc objectively in sequence.

Discs 1 and 2

The three Piano Quartets occupy the first two discs, and are given performances of strength and measured stature. All three works are big-boned, muscular
Read more works that (typically) belie the seemingly slender forces they are written for. The expansive main theme of the first movement of Quartet No.1 is a good example of this group’s approach in all the pieces. The tempo is slower than I have encountered before, but there is an inner drive that allows the music to feel as if it is unfolding with unforced naturalness. The phrasing of the cello’s second subject (1.48) is exquisite, and the development has a truly hushed quality (4.40). The veiled Intermezzo has the right air of mystery, and I love the ‘café’ music at 3.25 into the finale – listeners may remember this section being used effectively throughout the 1989 cult French film, Monsieur Hire. The other two quartets are just as effective, the long A major 2nd Quartet having a marvellous blend of symphonic weight and chamber intimacy.

Disc 3

The two String Quintets are beautifully crafted, seductive works that have not enjoyed the sort of popularity they deserve. These Brandis performances, which originate from Nimbus, are warmly relaxed, responsive to the many mood shifts, but not overblown or aggressive. They are particularly sensitive to the grave melancholy of slow movement of the F major, where ensemble, pitch and timbre are all well balanced. I also like their response to the wistful, gentle mood of the Intermezzo in the G major. They are given a recording that matches the artistic approach, being warm, fairly resonant but set in a pleasingly realistic acoustic.

Disc 4

This disc of the ever-popular Clarinet Sonatas is another licensed from Nimbus, and once again the results are first rate. Karl Leister is a very experienced player, and his understanding shines through every bar. The insert note reminds us of the inspirational source for the works, specifying the "wonderful tone and expression" as the qualities in the playing of Richard Mühlfeld (principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Court Orchestra) that Brahms so much admired. One feels he may have felt the same about Leister, whose tone is as liquid as it is sensitive. He and his admirable partner, Ferenc Bognar, respond with a loving intimacy to the music’s glowing and nostalgic lyricism, the wonderful opening of the E flat Sonata being a good example. There is no lack of strength where required (there is real appassionato in the F minor’s first movement) and these performances banish all the clichés about Brahms as nothing more than a brusque and burly academic.

Disc 5

This disc interestingly couples the great Clarinet Quintet, for many Brahms’s finest chamber composition, with the second of the three String Quartets. It also shows us (probably unintentionally) a real contrast in stylistic approaches to Brahms playing. The Leister/Brandis Quintet is all autumnal warmth, a gentle, elegiac performance that sees the piece (quite validly) in a reflective vein. Even the liveliness in the andantino third movement and con moto finale is of a restrained nature, brighter textures and sprung rhythms taking the place of anything more aggressive. The Tokyo Quartet, on the other hand, take an equally valid view that Brahms has a turbulent, tempestuous side that is often underplayed. The opening of this A minor Quartet shows the Tokyo’s vividly dramatic, fierily impulsive approach well. It is a superbly sculpted performance, full of dynamic contrast, as the sforzando chords at 3.08 amply show. Technically, this group is beyond reproach; indeed, in the past they have been criticized for being too polished at the expense of warmth and expression, not a view I have shared.

Disc 6

This disc completes the String Quartet group, and confirms everything written above. The Tokyo’s blend of technical virtuosity and ripe, red-blooded romanticism is hard to resist. The powerful flanking movements of both works have an urgency that is very compelling. The First Quartet’s romanza second movement has a rapt magic, and the rhythmic vitality of scherzos is thoroughly invigorating. This is extremely satisfying music making, and the recording, which appears to have originated on VOX USA from 1986, is superb.

Disc 7

This Nash recording of the Piano Quintet and Horn Trio is one of the few discs from this box where I have been able to trace the provenance. It originated on the CRD label, first appearing in 1994, and has since been re-issued at mid-price. It now forms part of this collection, and very welcome it is. Both performances again tend towards the relaxed (at least in terms of basic tempo), but are so strongly characterized as to render speed immaterial. The group has obviously performed these works many times, and the expressive warmth and extra degree of intensity that such familiarity brings is marked. There is a sense of line and continuity that many higher-powered readings fail to convey. The opening Andante of the Horn Trio, one of Brahms’s most gloriously inspired creations, is beautifully balanced, with Frank Lloyd’s rich horn tone gliding effortlessly out of the texture. After three relaxed, luxuriant movements, the galloping finale is played with great panache and not a little sense of sheer fun. The Piano Quintet has pianist Ian Brown in a crucial role, and he acquits him admirably. Once again, the classical proportions of the work are very evident, with subtlety being the watchword. I have rarely been as moved by the sumptuous slow movement, and there is dash and virtuosity aplenty in the finale. Full-bodied sound quality helps the richness of the performances, the resonant acoustic not being too troublesome. A superb and stimulating pairing.

Disc 8

The record catalogue is awash with recordings of the three Violin Sonatas, but I doubt if any are more satisfying than this. Pauk and Vignoles know each other very well, and the partnership works on every level. The big, high-octane swagger we hear from some international soloists is replaced here by a superbly subtle, understated approach that pays dividends. They take the G major Sonata spaciously, but do not forfeit momentum in the process and the delicacy of the music comes across convincingly, helped by the warm, well-balanced recording. Pauk’s sweet-toned 1714 Stradivarius glows with a Viennese affection, and Vignoles partners with superb understanding. Though they are probably at their best in the gentler music, it would be wrong to suggest that any necessary intensity or passion is lacking – try the development of the Allegro amabile of the A major Sonata, where the passion and excitement are tangible. These are deeply satisfying readings of great music.

Disc 9

This disc brings us to performances of the wonderfully contrasting Cello Sonatas, which originates from the Netherlands and is the most recently recorded. This may mean that it was recorded specially for this set, rather than being licensed from previous sources. This is certainly not a problem in itself, though it is probably the weakest disc of the box. The cello tone is reasonably sumptuous and full-bodied, and the veteran Entremont’s pianism is still worth hearing. There is a hint of the perfunctory in places; the matter-of-fact opening of the F major has little of the imperiousness of other accounts, and the marvelous adagio of the same piece could have stronger contrast and depth. That said, there are still things to enjoy. These artists manage to convey some of the droll charm of the Allegretto quasi menuetto of the E minor, and they are technically fleet-of-foot in the quicker music – the allegro molto finale of the F major zips along in thrilling fashion. Repeated hearings have thrown up other good things, and to say it is the weakest simply points to the quality of the other performances overall.

Disc 10

The two String Sextets are among Brahms’s greatest compositions in any genre. They are once again on a large scale, with long-breathed ideas worked out in a complex, though entirely approachable, web of counterpoint. This CRD original has an augmented Alberni Quartet giving performances of great enthusiasm and musicianship. It is thought that the second was written in response to the failure of a friendship with Agathe von Siebold. Whatever the case, the dark, melancholy introspection is beautifully caught by the players. The massive architecture of each piece (with their 15 minute first movements) is realised in playing of great warmth, rhythmic vitality, and superb tonal blend. Another real winner. Discs 11 & 12

The last two discs are devoted to the three Piano Trios and the superb Clarinet Trio. The latter is another Nimbus original, with Karl Leister and his colleagues playing with great delicacy and poignancy – sample the heart-rending coda of the first movement, where Brahms allows us to glimpse his acutely vulnerable heart. Beautifully rich and detailed recording, with the piece’s tricky balance as good as any I’ve heard. The Piano Trios feature the high-powered playing of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, and very good it is too. The youthful Op.8 (later revised) is a great success. The scherzo is as sharply etched as any I’ve heard, and the Adagio, with its signs of great things to come, is hushed and intense. Rubato is tasteful throughout, and the occasional lack of poetry or emotion is more than offset by the ebullience and dramatic sweep of the readings. Recording quality is not as rich or detailed as some of the others, but is perfectly acceptable.

As you will have gathered from the above, this box is an outstanding success on almost every level.

– MusicWeb International (Tony Haywood)
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Works on This Recording

1.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano), Isabelle Faust (Violin), Bruno Giuranna (Viola),
Alain Meunier (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1996 
Venue:  Tibor Varga Foundation Hall, Sion 
2.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 3 in C minor, Op. 60 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano), Isabelle Faust (Violin), Bruno Giuranna (Viola),
Alain Meunier (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1875; Austria 
Date of Recording: 08/1996 
Venue:  Tibor Varga Foundation Hall, Sion 
3.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 2 in A major, Op. 26 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Derek Han (Piano), Isabelle Faust (Violin), Bruno Giuranna (Viola),
Alain Meunier (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1996 
Venue:  Tibor Varga Foundation Hall, Sion 
4.
Quintet for Strings no 1 in F major, Op. 88 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Brett Dean (Viola), Thomas Brandis (Violin), Peter Brem (Violin),
Wilfried Strehle (Viola), Wolfgang Boettcher (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandis String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1882; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1996 
Venue:  Teldec Studio, Berlin, Germany 
5.
Quintet for Strings no 2 in G major, Op. 111 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilfried Strehle (Viola), Peter Brem (Violin), Wolfgang Boettcher (Cello),
Thomas Brandis (Violin), Brett Dean (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandis String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1996 
Venue:  Teldec Studio, Berlin, Germany 
6.
Sonata for Clarinet/Viola and Piano no 1 in F minor, Op. 120 no 1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Karl Leister (Clarinet), Ferenc Bognár (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Germany 
Date of Recording: 02/1997 
Venue:  Teldec Studio, Berlin, Germany 
7.
Sonata for Clarinet/Viola and Piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 120 no 2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Ferenc Bognár (Piano), Karl Leister (Clarinet)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; Germany 
Date of Recording: 02/1997 
Venue:  Teldec Studio, Berlin, Germany 
8.
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B minor, Op. 115 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Wilfried Strehle (Viola), Peter Brem (Violin), Thomas Brandis (Violin),
Karl Leister (Clarinet), Wolfgang Boettcher (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brandis String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/1996 
9.
Quartet for Strings no 1 in C minor, Op. 51 no 1 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sadao Harada (Cello), Kazuhide Isomura (Viola), Kikuei Ikeda (Violin),
Peter Oundjian (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865-1873; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1986 
10.
Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor, Op. 51 no 2 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Kikuei Ikeda (Violin), Sadao Harada (Cello), Kazuhide Isomura (Viola),
Peter Oundjian (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865-1873; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1986 
11.
Quartet for Strings no 3 in B flat major, Op. 67 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Peter Oundjian (Violin), Kikuei Ikeda (Violin), Kazuhide Isomura (Viola),
Sadao Harada (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tokyo String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1875; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1986 
12.
Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in E flat major, Op. 40 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Frank Lloyd (French Horn), Ian Brown (Piano), Marcia Crayford (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nash Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/1991 
Venue:  St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London 
13.
Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor, Op. 34 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Elizabeth Layton (Violin), Marcia Crayford (Violin), Roger Chase (Viola),
Christopher Van Kampen (Cello), Ian Brown (Piano)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nash Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1861-1864; Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/1991 
Venue:  St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London 
14.
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in G major, Op. 78 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  György Pauk (Violin), Roger Vignoles (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878-1879; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1991 
15.
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 2 in A major, Op. 100 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  György Pauk (Violin), Roger Vignoles (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1991 
16.
Sonata for Violin and Piano no 3 in D minor, Op. 108 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  György Pauk (Violin), Roger Vignoles (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886-1888; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1991 
17.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 1 in E minor, Op. 38 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Herre-Jan Stegenga (Cello), Philippe Entremont (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862-1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/28/2000 
Venue:  Deventer, Holland, Netherlands 
18.
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 in F major, Op. 99 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Herre-Jan Stegenga (Cello), Philippe Entremont (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/28/2000 
Venue:  Deventer, Holland, Netherlands 
19.
Sextet for Strings no 1 in B flat major, Op. 18 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Roger Best (Viola), Moray Welsh (Cello), Howard Davis (Violin),
Peter Pople (Violin), Berian Evans (Viola), David Smith (Cello)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alberni String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1859-1860; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1978 
Venue:  London, England 
20.
Sextet for Strings no 2 in G major, Op. 36 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Moray Welsh (Cello), Howard Davis (Violin), Roger Best (Viola),
David Smith (Cello), Berian Evans (Viola), Peter Pople (Violin)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Alberni String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864-1865; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1978 
Venue:  London, England 
21.
Trio for Piano and Strings no 1 in B major, Op. 8 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sharon Robinson (Cello), Jaime Laredo (Violin), Joseph Kalichstein (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854/1889; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1985 
22.
Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 in C minor, Op. 101 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sharon Robinson (Cello), Jaime Laredo (Violin), Joseph Kalichstein (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1985 
23.
Trio for Piano and Strings no 2 in C major, Op. 87 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Sharon Robinson (Cello), Joseph Kalichstein (Piano), Jaime Laredo (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880-1882; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1985 
24.
Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 114 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Ferenc Bognár (Piano), Karl Leister (Clarinet), Wolfgang Boettcher (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1997 

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