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Brahms: The Piano Quartets / Ax, Stern, Laredo, Ma


Release Date: 01/17/2012 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 755638  
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Emanuel AxIsaac SternJaime LaredoYo-Yo Ma
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is generous, unselfish, beautifully integrated chambermusic playing, but playing in which the collective weight, both physical and spiritual, of four charismatic solo players has obvious advantages.

In these marvellous pieces where big ideas are matched with big sonorities, the presence of big personalities has to be a plus. Which is not to imply one-upmanship—not at all. This is generous, unselfish, beautifully integrated chambermusic playing, but playing in which the collective weight, both physical and spiritual, of four charismatic solo players has obvious advantages. Indeed, a few bars of Ax/Stern/Laredo/Ma in the G minor Quartet's luscious Andante con mot° and one might be wondering why Schoenberg
Read more bothered with his orchestration at all. I am a great admirer of the Domus recordings of these pieces (Virgin Classics), but a little extra temperament can go a very long way and there is no doubt in my mind that it is that which makes the difference here. There is sweep and exuberance, and grandmannered drama, along with evident delight at Brahms's subtler inventions: one might cite the flowery major-key recapitulation of the first group's second idea; or the second movement, often referred to as Clara Schumann's movement, whose melancholic grace is so elegantly chronicled (how discreetly the worm turns with that wistful modulation into the second subject). The 'Hungarian' finale is predictably flamboyant, sung at the top of all four voices. Ax leads here with some terrifically nimble articulation (the racy czardas of the second subject) and one memorable cadenzalike flourish (like the ubiquitous gipsy-band cimbalom) just prior to the coda. Rubato and accenting are entirely unanimous, lending an intoxicating kick to all the tuttis.

But the real sparks have yet to fly. The C minor Quartet is easily the star-turn here. Bows are fiercely drawn as Brahms relives his troubled youth, torn between his love for Clara and his devotion to Schumann. "Passionately suicidal" was how William Mann once described this tempestuous first movement, and here's one performance which more than bears him out. Yo-Yo Ma then leads the glorious adagio, a requiem for Schumann in all but name and played with full hearts. My listening notes are sparse from here onwards, referring only to the final bars—the cloudiest C major imaginable. It's always a good sign when one is too absorbed to scribble.

Youthful anxieties subside in the A major Quartet with its overriding air of benign romance and well-being and eighteenth-century Viennese grace. Again, I can only speak of the unforced charm and purpose, the generosity, and the give and take of this playing. Everything would seem to gravitate spontaneously towards the glorious E major Adagio, one of Brahms's finest, songful and serene, despite untoward stirrings in remote keys. In these ardent hands we are left in absolutely no doubt as to where Brahms finally and conclusively pulls us into the light: a startling modulation (8'45") towards the close of the central development. Rarely can it have sounded quite so inviting. The recordings place us at close quarters to this distinguished foursome, which is exactly where anyone who knows what's good for them would want to be.

- Gramophone, (March, 1991)
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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:  Emanuel Ax (Piano), Isaac Stern (Violin), Jaime Laredo (Violin),
Yo-Yo Ma (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1989 
Venue:  Troy Music Hall, Troy, New York 
Length: 40 Minutes 12 Secs. 
2.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 2 in A major, Op. 26 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano), Isaac Stern (Violin), Jaime Laredo (Violin),
Yo-Yo Ma (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1989 
Venue:  Troy Music Hall, Troy, New York 
Length: 52 Minutes 45 Secs. 
3.
Quartet for Piano and Strings no 3 in C minor, Op. 60 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Emanuel Ax (Piano), Isaac Stern (Violin), Jaime Laredo (Violin),
Yo-Yo Ma (Cello)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1875; Austria 
Date of Recording: 1986 
Venue:  Suntory Hall, Tokyo 
Length: 35 Minutes 34 Secs. 

Sound Samples

I. Allegro
II. Intermezzo. Allegro ma non troppo - Trio. Animato
III. Andante con moto
IV. Rondo alla Zingarese. Presto
I. Allegro non troppo
II. Scherzo. Allegro
III. Andante
IV. Finale. Allegro comodo
I. Allegro non troppo
II. Poco adagio
III. Scherzo - Trio. Poco allegro
IV. Finale. Allegro

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