String Quartet in C minor, Op.51/1
String Quartet in B flat, Op.67
Takács Quartet [Edward Dusinberre & Károly Schranz (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola) & András Fejér (cello)]
Recorded 23-26 May 2008 in St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: HYPERION CDA67552
Duration: 65 minutes
While it is well-known that Brahms famously experienced problems with the genesis of his symphonic output, he also had similar issues with the medium of the string quartet, numerous early examples falling by the wayside. It should be noted, however, that his three works in the idiom were published just ahead of the long-gestated First Symphony.
The B flat example gives the impression of being Brahms’s most spontaneous composition for strings, and its textures are lighter than either of the Opus 51 pair. In the hands of the Takács quartet the first movement becomes something of an extended Scherzo, the opening theme brightly presented in a manner akin to that of Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet. The musicians’ bright and somewhat lighter approach continues to the music’s advantage, with a particularly beautiful viola solo (ideally captured in the recording) from Geraldine Walther in the third movement, her colleagues offering hushed punctuation. Although there are a few higher-register tuning issues in the first movement (around the 6’00” mark) ensemble is generally very secure, with particular attention paid to Brahms’s cross-rhythms. It is nice to see this work, the least heard of Brahms’s three quartets, given special attention by being placed first.
The C minor Quartet, over which Brahms wrangled for a long time, enjoys an extremely cohesive performance. The Takács Quartet is at pains to bring forward the composer’s close relation of his thematic material, and with the inner parts wonderfully detailed the musicians fully exploit the way this work moves far and wide from the home key. Rhythmically taut, the performance gains a real momentum through the third-movement Allegretto that carries into the finale. This sets off with a real purpose in the unison opening, András Fejér’s cello then providing a solid rhythmic base. Most impressive of all is the coda, an emphatic finish carrying all before it.
Bearing in mind the Takács Quartet’s previous disc of Brahms for Hyperion – a particularly fine version of the Piano Quintet with Stephen Hough and the second of the Opus 51 quartets, this current release makes an ideal partner.