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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quintet in f-minor, Op. 34 (1862-1866) [40:24]
Klavierstücke, Op. 76 (1878) [24:27]
Hermès Quartet
Geoffroy Couteau (piano)
rec. 2015/18, Grande Salle of the Arsenal in Metz; Theatre des 4 Saisons, Gradignan, France

Geoffroy Couteau is a pianist currently based in Metz who is probably best known to listeners for his recent traversal of the complete piano music of Brahms, also on La Dolce Volta. His next project, an even larger one, is to record all of the Brahms chamber music with piano. The present disc is the first in that series and here he is joined by the estimable Hermès Quartet.

The Piano Quintet dates from the same period as the Cello Sonata No. 1 and the String Sextet No. 2 but is notable for its symphonic breadth and overall conception. Couteau and the Hermès launch things with a fervently played Allegro in which the string playing is beautifully detailed. The slightly Schumannesque Andante movement brings out Couteau’s strong points: delicacy of touch combined with precision of attack. Unfortunately, the crucial Scherzo is a big disappointment as the players take things at far too fast a pace and with more percussiveness than one associates with Brahms. The three-part Finale is much better-after the slightly mysterious opening Couteau does excellent work in the central development section and at the end all involved bring things to a fine conclusion.

In his youth Brahms wrote big sonatas and sets of variations for solo piano. Around the time of the composition of the Violin Concerto he began to write sets of small, intimate piano pieces (Op. 76 and 78) and continued the practice in some of his last works (Op. 116-119). Couteau is definitely up to the wide range of emotional response required in performing the eight pieces of Op. 76. From the dreamy F-sharp minor Capriccio to the sturdy A-major Intermezzo (reminiscent of the Piano Concerto No. 2) Couteau ably evokes the unique nature of each piece. Especially noteworthy are his handling of the rhythmic contrasts in the A-flat Intermezzo and the emotional depths of that in B-flat.

The works of Op. 76 seemingly derive from the previously-mentioned set of the complete piano works. The recording here is rather tight and a little harsh but the venue for the Quintet, the Grande Salle of the Arsenal in Metz, serves admirably, especially in bringing out the contrast between piano and strings. The quintet’s Scherzo apart, this is a fine disc and I look forward to further instalments of Couteau’s new series.

William Kreindler

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