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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51 (1873) [33:46]
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34 (1866) [42:31]
Natacha Kudritskaya (piano)
Brodsky Quartet
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk 8-10 September 2015
CHANDOS CHAN10892 [76:30]

This is a sequel to the same quartet's Clarinet Quintet and String Quartet Op. 51 No. 2 on CHAN 10817. Chandos have stood by the Brodsky over the years as they have also done with the Doric. Their Brodsky catalogue shines with their Panufnik, Grundman, Zemlinsky and Debussy alongside a confection collection in the shape of Petits-Fours.

There's some vertiginously exciting playing in the quartet (I: 7.00) and this presents a nice contrast with the gentle fragility of the Romanze (II: 2.20). This vulnerability can be uncannily akin to that of Sibelius in Voces Intimae. The mood, if not the similarity, carries over into the easily wounded delicacy of the third movement. The finale is a short allegro - shorter than any of the previous three movements. For all its panache it feels like an anti-climax.

The Quintet is also in four movements and was written during the years between the Rinaldo cantata and the orchestral-vocal Alto Rhapsody, Triumphlied and Schicksalslied. Its manner is at times reflective of the sudden squalls of the First Piano Concerto. At others it favours a tenderness into which the close of the first movement magically sinks. By the way, that moment is masterfully done by the Brodsky. The surging calorific value of the Andante is notable and Kudritskaya is there with the Brodsky on the crest of that wave. The gracefully bowed heads and doffed hats of the finale are very nicely carried off here.

The liner-note is by Nicholas Marston. In addition to providing a not overly technical roadmap through the music he introduces a measure of biographical backdrop, including details of the premieres.

The enveloping sound-scene favours the warm collective four-fold voice rather than disentangling instrumental strands. Even so it's not succulent. The engineers present the listener with the hum of summer rather than a wintry shiver of precise definition.

As a single disc coupling there is scant competition and what there is I confess I have not heard. In its own right this disc will satisfy those wanting these two works. The field opens out if you opt for two-disc sets with a wider work catchment in which case I would, from memory, go for a 1990s Warner recording from the Borodin Quartet and Eliso Virsaladze.

Rob Barnett



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