Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
R E V I E W S:
Here, in superbly re-mastered sound, are the essential recordings of the three Brahms Piano Quartets. These have been classics in their LP and CD versions, and now sound better than ever on two hybrid SACDs courtesy of PentaTone. Recorded in Switzerland in 1973, the Beaux Arts Trio, joined by German born American violist Walter Trampler, is at the peak of their storied collaboration in these quartets.
There is no better word than exquisite for Menahem Pressler’s introduction to the G-Minor Quartet. The same could be said for
cellist Bernard Greenhouse’s entrance. If violinist Isadore Cohen’s appearance is less exalted, that was nearly always the case with the Beaux Arts. Nevertheless, here in the more spacious surroundings offered by SACD, he, too, sounds better.
Arnold Schoenberg made his strange symphonic arrangement of the G-Minor Quartet in 1937, in order to “hear everything in the score.” With respect, the Beaux Arts’s performance is a model of textual and musical clarity. They have the complete measure of its symphonic complexity without ever losing the intimacy of chamber music. Neither do they overwhelm its more refined textures (as Schoenberg did in his version.) They offer plenty of virtuoso excitement as well: the coda of the Rondo alla zingarese is hair-raising. This recording has one peer: Gilels and the Amadeus Quartet on DGG’s “Originals” series. The Amadeus members play with great feeling and spontaneity in what might be described as a Viennese approach to Brahms. Gilels is predictably superb as well. I wouldn’t be without either.
For the two other quartets, the Beaux Arts and Trampler stand high above the competition. In the C-Minor Quartet, op. 60, often called the “Werther Quartet,” these four musicians explore all the dimensions of Brahms’s sorrow with a nobility of spirit expressed in perfection of ensemble. The tension in the Andante
movement is nearly unbearable, and only reaches a sense of reconciliation in the movement’s final minutes.
In the smaller-scaled A-Major Quartet, Pressler’s gently rocking triplets establish the more intimate character of this work. The ensemble’s tenderly sweet performance of the Poco adagio movement is unforgettably beautiful.
Don’t hesitate to purchase this recording if you plan to listen to the CD layer, though the SACD layer in stereo and multichannels provides a richer listening experience. If I were asked to describe the sound of Brahms, I would have no hesitation in letting these recordings speak for me.
FANFARE: Michael Fine
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