Aureole etc.

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quintet No.1 in F Op.88 (1882) [28.24]
String Quartet No.3 in Bb Op.67 (1875) [36.54]
Shanghai Quartet
Arnold Steinhardt (viola)
Rec: Church of the Ascension, New York City
DELOS DE 3198 [65.18]
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As with his symphonies, Brahms left his first foray into the string quartet until he reached his forties (just) with the two Op.51 in 1873. Then, just like the following second symphony, the next string quartet came relatively hard on their heels, with his Op.67 just two years later (and it was after this that the first symphony appeared). After this he wrote no more. A pity because this is a marvellous work, compact and full of inventive ideas despite its formulaic structural conventions. It has a pervasively buoyant mood, with the first movement built around three ideas, a cliché-ed horn call, a more placid second subject, and another but more fluid and gentle line at the beginning of the development section. The second movement has a beautiful sense of inner peace and tranquillity, the final plagal or Amen cadence (Track 5: 07’20") highly reminiscent of his contemporary Max Bruch, whom Brahms was more likely to lambast rather than imitate, yet it has its place here. The viola leads his muted colleagues in the agitated scherzo, while the finale is a set of variations on a charmingly lilting melody, whose presence is more less constant.

In 1882, while spending the summer at his favourite health resort, Bad Ischl, Brahms completed his String Quintet and despatched it to his publisher Simrock (as well as the Piano Trio Op.87) with the message, ‘I tell you, you have not ever had anything so good from me, nor perhaps published in the last ten years’. It is indeed a fine work from the beautiful melody at the start, the presence of a second viola always enriching the texture, and immediately given a prominent role by leading off with the second subject (Track 1: 01’50"). The second movement consists of three classical dances in rondo form with the recurrent section the opening sarabande, the contrasting ones a quasi-galliard and a gavotte, while the finale opens with a bracing fugue within the infrastructure of sonata form. Though for only five instruments, there are moments when one has the feeling of listening to a full string orchestra (Track 3: 03’45").

Both works are given idiosyncratic performances by the excellent Shanghai String Quartet with Arnold Steinhardt the guest additional viola in the String Quintet, with all the players responsive to the broad sweep of Brahmsian melody, eloquent phrasing and rugged textures. A small quibble is the order which contravenes the chronology, the String Quartet should have preceded the Quintet rather than the other way around.

Christopher Fifield


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Quintet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 88:
Allegro non troppo ma con brio

Grave ed appassionato

Allegro energico

Quartet No. 3 in B flat Major, Op. 67


Agitato (Allegretto non troppo)

Poco Allegretto con Variazioni

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