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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51 No. 1 (c. 1868-73) [21:21]
String Quintet No. 2 in G, Op. 111 (1890) [29:45].
Belcea String Quartet (Corina Belcea-Fisher (violin); Krzysztof Shorzelski (violin);  Laura Samuel (viola); Alasdair Tait (cello)), Thomas Kakushka (viola).
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 4-6 July, 4 September 2003.
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 2357122 [62:19]
Experience Classicsonline

The ‘Encore’ series is one of EMI’s more uneven reissue labels, so it is good to report that this one is an absolute steal. The Belcea Quartet has established a solid reputation in Dutilleux, Debussy and Ravel, Schubert, Bartók and Britten. This reissue acts as a reminder of the group’s potency coupled with their youthful sense of exploration and exuberance.
 
The C minor Quartet receives an intense performance, as befits its musical surface. The rigour of the workings of the first movement seems to hang over the Romance, a second movement at once infinitely tender yet with an underlay of disquiet. The close of the Romance takes the music down to a whisper, enabling the rhythmic shiftings of the next movement to emerge out of nowhere, as if voicing a doubt as to any ambitions the Romance may have had towards serenity. Yet even here the doubts are calmed by passages of the utmost transparency. The finale returns to the determined motivic workings of the first movement, now with added grit. A superb performance. I agree with Michael Cookson’s recommendation of the Borodin Quartet in this piece (Teldec); I would add the Škampa Quartet on Supraphon as a further recommendation.
 
The radiant String Quintet in G, Op.111 makes for the ideal coupling. The translucency of the textures is breathtaking and the wonderfully clear recording helps. The Belcea is joined by the ABQ’s much-missed violist, Thomas Kakuska. The warm, free-flowing invention is mesmeric to listen to. Not only is the recording clear, it is also warm and welcoming. The hesitancy of the Adagio is gripping, with its pianissimi that verge on the inaudible and its outbursts of sheer joy in creative expression; the ensuing Un poco allegretto exudes an atmosphere of the generally unsettled. The finale introduces a measure of tension into the mix, though.

Documentation is sparse: there are roughly equal amounts of text - less than a page - on the composer and the works presented. The artists receive a little more. The standard of performance and recording, on this occasion, eclipses the niggles. Do not hesitate.
 
Colin Clarke

see also review by Michael Cookson (original release)

 

 


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