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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet in C minor, Opus 51 No. 1 (1873)
String Quartet in A minor, Opus 51 No. 2 (1873)
Silke-Thora Matthies; Christian Köhn (piano)
Recorded 7-9 August 1997, Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany
Four Hand Piano Music, Vol. 10
NAXOS 8.557056 [69.02]

Brahms generally brought out his instrumental compositions in four hand piano arrangements as well as their ‘original form’. The piano was his own instrument, of course, and he became particularly adept at making the transcriptions seem the most natural thing in the world.

These arrangements of the first two string quartets are certainly successful in making the music sound spontaneous with a natural balance and flow. However, such accomplishment should not be taken for granted since the string quartet groups an ensemble of legato instrument, whereas the piano is a percussion instrument, the very opposite. No wonder the music sounds as though it was conceived with this new delivery in mind.

Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn make an effective team, and the recording, while not the most atmospheric, is adequate enough to do justice to the music. What is most pleasing of all, perhaps, is the way that the performances gain a real sense of momentum in the faster outer movements. The details of texture are well articulated, and there is always a strong sense of purpose.

The slow movements are the most challenging for the piano duo combination, since this is when the legato line is missed the most. Here too the performances are never less than satisfactory, but it is in the Adagio (the slowest tempo of all) that the strings are missed. Whether a more carefully prepared performance, or a different interpretation, might have brought greater insights is an open question. Not that there is much wrong here, just that the concentration does not quite hold across the ambitious nine-minute span.

With good Naxos documentation, as ever, this rewarding disc will give much pleasure and will convince most listeners that the music works perfectly well in this format.

Terry Barfoot


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