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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Brahms Rediscovered
String Quintet in F minor Op.34 (1862) – reconstructed by Sebastian Brown (1946) [42:35]²
Piano Trio in A major  [36:57]¹
Amati Chamber Players (Leo Debono (piano), Igor Gruppman (violin); Simon Morris (cello))¹; Igor Gruppman (violin); Steven Smith (violin); Vesna Gruppman (viola); Simon Morris (cello); John Heley (cello)²
rec. All Saints Church, Petersham, 1997 
BIDDULPH 802272 [79:27]


Experience Classicsonline

It may well be Brahms Rediscovered but this brace of recordings has itself been hanging around undiscovered for over a decade until now. Recorded back in 1997 the Amati Chamber Players have thereby lost the opportunity to introduce a world premiere recording of the reconstruction of the String Quintet, which was made by Sebastian Brown in 1946. That honour fell to the Divertimenti Ensemble in a disc from Cello Classics that I reviewed last year.

The history of the reconstructed Quintet is complicated. Robert Pascall’s notes for Biddulph go into the details surrounding the early complexities of the original’s reception and rejection but rather bizarrely omits altogether the role of the English “reconstructor” Sebastian Brown, whose 1946 effort is the one performed. I delve into the complexities of all these matters in my previous review so for those who are interested that’s the place to look for fuller detail.

So we now have two competing versions of a reconstruction. The first thing to note is the considerable discrepancy in timings. The Amati players are much faster in the opening movement – 13 minutes to Divertimenti’s 16. But the latter group is faster in the slow movement by some minute and a half and by a minute in the finale. The proportions of both performances thus differ noticeably. The Divertimenti team were recorded in an acoustically rather echoing location. And their sonority is very much the more rich, with the viola and cellos sounding darker and more resonant. As a result their performance is rather mellower. The Amati is more febrile and violin-centred tonally with a less homogenised corporate sound. I certainly prefer the Divertimenti performance of the slow movement, which does sound laboured in this Biddulph performance.

Coupled with the reconstruction is a work that no one has ever shown definitively to be by Brahms at all. The Piano Trio in A major is likely to be an early work, and received its first performance as late as 1925 as a work by “an as yet unknown composer.” A decade later a case was made for Brahms being that composer in an article – citing Schumannesque influence, Brahmsian textures and themes and the similarity in part with Brahms’s Op.8 trio. It’s been tentatively dated to around 1853. There are some strong arguments pro and contra – the manuscript is now lost regrettably – but stylistic traits have been pursued by critics in favour and equally against. The first movement is rather clotted, but the Scherzo is striding and masculine whilst the Lento is relatively powerful alternating contrasting faster passages.  Nothing terribly distinctive is going on.

Still you might want to give this a listen for yourself. If so I recommend the alternative version of the Sebastian Brown reconstruction of the Quintet. The rival Cello Classics disc also has another novelty in the shape of Joseph Miroslav Weber’s Quintet – a rollickingly fine and enjoyable discovery.

Jonathan Woolf


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