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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1864) [40:45]
Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 (1891) [38:23]
John Nakamatsu (piano); Jon Manasse (clarinet)
Tokyo String Quartet (Martin Beaver (violin); Kikuei Ikeda (violin); Kazuhide Isomara (viola); Clive Greensmith (cello))
rec. November 2011, Sauder Concert Hall, Goshen College, Indiana, USA. SACD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 807558 [79:13]

Experience Classicsonline

This makes a lovely pairing: the earlier, youthful work is full of dark, restless energy and harmonic innovation while the mature Op. 115 glows golden and autumnal. Both are united by typically Brahmsian musical ideas characterised by the “dying fall” in semitones. If any quartet is ideal to embody these melancholy cadences it is that most nuanced and civilised of ensembles, the Tokyo Quartet.
What lovely music this is and how elegantly both pieces are played here. The sound is wonderfully full and warm, the ambience and acoustic ideal for Brahms. There are other equally desirable recordings but anyone purchasing this one cannot be disappointed. Clarinettist Jon Manasse produces a rounded tone somewhat less astringent than some rivals such as a favourite of mine with Keith Puddy and the Delmé Quartet, but that is now twenty-five years old and this is inevitably sonically more commanding. The Adagio is a serene lullaby, the Andantino marked by a sprightly, sustained momentum and liquid passages in which semiquavers bubble and effervesce. The Con moto fourth movement contains many felicities such as the tripping triple time of the fifth Variation before the reintroduction of the first movement’s opening theme and a sweetly poignant coda.
The Piano Quintet is given a more expressive treatment than the acclaimed recording by the Artemis Quartet and I prefer Jon Nakamatsu’s fuller tone to Andsnes’s drier sound. Here, the piano is recorded more closely and assertively, too, and again I favour the recording balance. In the opening Allegro, Nakamatsu brings more variety and passion to his re-statement of the driving main subject and the Tokyo strings match his fiery commitment. The ensuing Andante is startling in its contrasting restraint and hesitancy; the Artemis are too feisty. The martial theme of the Scherzo is given a more overt, strident treatment by the Artemis and, again, I prefer the Tokyo who engender a more menacing and inflexible grandeur, making more of what the liner-notes aptly characterise as Brahms’ “slithering chromaticism”. The eerie, discordant opening of the Finale is where the Tokyo really score over the Artemis; they bring more attack and real gypsy bravura to the ensuing “furiant”.
By and large, the Artemis are sharper, cleaner and less indulgent, the Tokyo more “Romantic” and better recorded; you will know which style you prefer.
By the way: I never understand why some labels encase their CDs in cardboard covers, reproducing what is already in the disc booklet and back cover; I throw mine away.  

Ralph Moore

see also review by Brian Wilson

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