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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four-Hand Piano Music Vol. 11

String Quartet No.3 in B flat major arranged for piano, 4 hands, Op.67 (1875)
String Quintet No.1 in F major arranged for piano, 4 hands, Op.88 (1882)
Silke-Thora Matthies (piano)
Christian Kohn (piano)
Rec. Clara-Wieck-Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany, 9-11 Nov 1997. DDD
NAXOS 8.554272 [68:30]

Brahms was a most accomplished pianist and supported his family financially from an early age playing the piano in dockside bordellos in the German port of Hamburg. Furthermore his output for the piano spanned his entire life often making piano reductions of his orchestral, choral and chamber works, many of them for piano-duo to allow them greater accessibility to a wider audience including, for example, a piano reduction of his mighty German Requiem.

This Naxos release contains reductions for four-hand piano of the third string quartet op. 67 and the first string quintet op.88 which prove to be most welcome additions to the catalogue. German-born duo Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Kohn have been performing together as a partnership for almost twenty years and offer memorable and sparkling performances of this repertoire for Naxos.

The first work on this release is the underrated String Quartet No.3 in B flat major from 1875. It is often said that the world of Mozart is clearly displayed by Brahms in this four movement work and that the opening movement Vivace is reminiscent of Mozartís Hunt Quartet K.458 which shares the same key. Matthies and Kohn are pianists in command of their technique with a total belief in their interpretation. The pair have a calm, stylish and controlled attitude to these works; flashiness and crudity are not words in their vocabulary. The presence and remarkable lightness of touch when required from Matthies and Kohn are outstanding and made a considerable impact on me.

The String Quintet No.1 in F major is a three movement work composed in 1882 when Brahms was holidaying at the fashionable resort of Bad Ischl. I find the final movement Allegro energico particularly impressive and handled expertly by Matthies and Kohn who offer just the right amount of rhythmic drive. Throughout this demanding work the impressive pair display a subtle tonal palette and a real sensitivity to detail.

It is a puzzle why these recordings which were made in November 1997 have only been released now in June 2004; however with playing as fine as this it has been well worth the long wait. The high calibre duo display a refined musicianship and outstanding technical prowess in this excellent Naxos release.

Michael Cookson

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