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Brahms: String Quintets, Op 88 & 111 / Leipzig Quartet

Release Date: 09/21/2004 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm) Gold Catalog #: 3071251   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Hartmut Rohde
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Brahms’s works for strings alone, without piano or other instruments, are only seven in number: three string quartets, the two quintets with viola heard here, and two sextets for two violins, two violas, and two cellos. The quintets were the last to be written (op. 88 in 1882 and op. 111 in 1890), so they qualify as later and late Brahms respectively. The impression on the listener, however, is likely to be closer to the earlier sextets than it is to the quartets. This is wonderfully amiable, melodically memorable music. Without reservation, I can say that the Leipzig String Quartet is one of the top chamber music ensembles playing today. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing other of their CDs for this journal, and everything I have heard Read more from this group has been gloriously played and sumptuously recorded.

At 1:30 into the op. 88 (played second on the CD), Brahms launches into one of those richly textured melodies that only he could write, luminous and suffused with longing. The Leipzigers capture the mood perfectly, while managing to bring off the tricky cross-rhythms and counterpoint. The slow movement of this three-movement work throbs with inexpressible yearning, while the finale (Allegro energico) bursts upon the scene with a wild fugal chase. In the Leipziger’s hands, it’s exhilarating.

The op. 111 opens with a shimmering effect—measured alternating thirds between the voices. It pervades the movement, providing an incandescent background against which the long arching melodic lines unfold and blossom. The Adagio, like so many of Brahms’s works, is imbued with a smoldering, gypsy-like passion. This quintet, in four movements, has a scherzo, but marked Un poco allegretto. Again, the gypsy sings her sad song. The finale (Vivace ma non troppo presto) is one of those movements (not unusual in late Brahms) that create a disturbing mood by shifting between major and minor, and by pitting dancelike rhythms that feel like they should be gay against dark, foreboding harmonies (a technique at which Schubert was also a master).

There are several excellent recordings of the two string quintets coupled as above. Three of my personal favorites are with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players on Nonesuch, the Hagen Quartet joined by Gérard Caussé on DG, and the Raphael Ensemble on Hyperion. However, I can say in all honesty that none is better than the Leipzig group. This is a very fine recording, and highly recommended.

Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Strings no 1 in F major, Op. 88 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Hartmut Rohde (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1882; Austria 
Quintet for Strings no 2 in G major, Op. 111 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Hartmut Rohde (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; Austria 

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