Brahms: Piano Quartets Nos. 1 & 3 (CD review)

Faure Quartett. DG 00289 476 6323.

Many small chamber works--quartets, quintets, and the like--remind me in tone and structure of miniature symphonies. None more so than the two quartets presented here, Brahms's Quartets Nos. 1 and 3 for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello. Although their four-movement construction obviously mimics larger-scale pieces, it's more a matter of Brahms's large-scale vision that tends to make me think of things symphonic. If Brahms had orchestrated these two works for full orchestra, they might have made splendid symphonies for him. In fact, Arnold Schoenberg in 1937 did transcribe the First Quartet for orchestra and humorously called it Brahms's "Fifth Symphony."

Yes, these two small-scale chamber works bear all the hallmarks of Brahms's symphonic style, and the Faure Quartett perform them in a most satisfactory and unified manner. The Piano Quartet No. 1 in g-minor, op. 25 begins with a big Allegro containing a number of alternating sentiments, setting the stage for the elaborate harmonies to follow. The Intermezzo is surprisingly glib and playful; the Andante is charming and lively, more than a little reminiscent of Schubert; and the Rondo finale is sprightly and quick, with a gypsy feel to it.

Brahms called his Piano Quartet No. 3 in c-minor, op. 60 "suicide music," presumably because of its somber nature. The booklet note suggests the composer may have been in a doleful mood when he wrote it because of his prolonged love for the wife of his best friend, Robert Schumann, a love that could not be. In any case, the music may be in the sorrowful vein of much Brahms, but it's lovely and heartfelt as well. The opening Allegro provides the proper degree of grave sobriety. The second-movement Scherzo is brief, fleeting, and fast, while also being quite earnest and practically a work unto itself. These preliminary movements lead to the centerpiece, the heart, of the composition, the Andante, where Brahms registers his most serious notes of melancholy and creates some of the most-poignant and affecting music in any of his oeuvre. It leaves one rather emotionally drained and spent, but to the good. The Allegro Finale that concludes the work is almost anticlimactic at this point, as we really don't need anything more to break the mood; however, it manages to follow up in an appropriately well-tempered spirit, with intimations of Beethoven along the way.

The Faure Quartett, formed in 1995, consists of Erika Geldsetzer, violin; Sascha Frombling, viola; Konstantin Heidrich, cello; and Dirk Mommertz, piano. They play with sensitivity, refinement, and grace, and, more important, they play as one. Although their instruments intertwine and support each other, they sound of a whole, a single instrument getting into the music, with no single player dominating despite the titles of these works being "piano" quartets.

DG's sound complements the Faure Quartett's singleness of purpose, making the group appear larger and grander than a mere four people. The sonics are warm, fairly close, yet fairly soft. Overall, the sound is quite smooth and agreeable and helps the music go down most comfortably.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa