Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

String Quartets
Opus 51 no. 1 in C minor
Opus 51 no. 2 in A minor
Opus 67 in B flat major
String Quintet in G major, opus 111*

Tokyo String Quartet
* Brandis String Quartet, with Brett Dean (viola)
Regis RRC 2038 (2 discs, 125.33 minutes)
on sale for around £6

Brahms is the greatest master of 19th century chamber music after Beethoven. And 'after Beethoven' applies in both the chronological and the historical sense. It was probably his reverence for the classical tradition which delayed the completion of his first string quartets; they are the work of the mature artist, not the young man. (He certainly wrote quartets as a young man, but he destroyed them.)

The Tokyo Quartet recorded the three Brahms Quartets in 1986 for Vox, and these new Regis transfers do marvellous justice to their refined and committed performances. The best of the three is probably the first, Opus 51 no. 1, with a real intensity of focus and a beautifully judged dynamic control which brings out the subtle features of the textures. Tempi are well judged too, sounding absolutely naturally and, like any fine performance, as though the music could not possibly be interpreted differently.

The Quintet is one of Brahms final chamber music compositions, written shortly before the celebrated Trio and Quintet for the Meiningen clarinettist Richard Mhlfeld. The extra richness brought by the addition of a second viola is used with both subtlety and drama by Brahms. To experience the new sound-world of quintet rather than quartet, simply sample the early stages of the first movement, the driving intensity of the first subject contrasted against the sublime lyricism of the second. All credit, then, to the Brandis Quartet and their extra violist Brett Dean, who recorded the work in Berlin for Teldec in 1996. The Brandis are an excellent ensemble who have made too few recordings; this one, at any rate, shows their true value.

This Brahms set can be highly recommended and serves the composer well.

Terry Barfoot

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