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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String quartet in c minor, op. 51, no. 1 [35:35]
String quartet in a minor, op. 51, no. 2 [35:32]
Verdi String Quartet: Susanne Rabenschlag and Peter Stein, violin; Karin Wolf, viola; Didier Poskin, cello
Recorded in December 2000 (op. 51/1) and September 2001, (op. 51/2) DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.393 [71:06]

That it took Johannes Brahms fourteen years and more than twenty attempts to produce the first string quartets that he deemed worthy of publication speaks volumes about the composer both as a self-critical perfectionist, and a man who recognized the weight of tradition and his own place in it. We as listeners can be nothing but grateful for his tenacity, as the resultant works are perfection; masterpieces full of the gravitas of so serious a musical mind, and rich with a beauty of melody and harmony that is surely unsurpassed by any composer of his era.

The Verdi Quartet give us performances that are as near to perfection as can be either imagined or wished for. Completely aware of the symphonic structure of these works, these are performances that are completely thought through, each new theme and its development unfurled for us at the perfect pace, with a flawless sense of melodic line and contour, with spotless intonation and fluid ensemble. I have often held the Emerson String Quartet as the standard by which all other such ensembles should be judged, but I do believe that the Verdi have proven themselves equal if not superior with these impeccable renditions.

The opening movement of the c minor quartet is so solidly played, that one quickly forgets that he is listening to only four instruments. Symphonic in its concept, the Verdi perform this work with a lush and vibrant tone, yet they never push their instruments beyond their limits. The attention to detail, especially where the famous Brahmsian inner voices are concerned can at times take oneís breath away. The lyrical slow movements are at times tender, at others melancholy but always sweet with reflection and beauty. The closing allegro is ripe with energy and contrapuntal passages are played with the care one would give to a Bach fugue.

The a minor quartet receives an equally splendid reading with all one could ask for in terms of structure, line, balance and intonation. Of particular beauty is the lyrical, song-like second movement that is played with such tenderness as to carry the listener into some otherworldly memory of a past joy.

Iím gushing you say? Perhaps so, but there is much here that deserves it. Not since the Emersons released their near-perfect Ravel/Debussy set some years ago on DG have I heard such fine playing. Hänsslerís production values are of the first order, here producing recordings of superb balance and clarity of tone. Couple that with a fine booklet essay in multiple languages and an attractive cover design, you have a package that is a winner through and through. No lover of fine chamber music should be without this disc. Recommended without a momentís hesitation.

Kevin Sutton



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