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.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa