Chiara String Quartet / Roger Tapping

Brahms by Heart

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The title of this double album is literal: the members of the Chiara String Quartet memorized the four Brahms works they perform. The feat is not unique, but remains rare enough to be a real novelty, for the players have to memorize not only their own parts but those of the other musicians. Are the results easy to hear? Probably. This is an unusually close, detailed performance of these four chamber works, among the densest and most complex pieces Brahms ever wrote. The group's ensemble work has an intensity and sense of dialogue that mark the performances of the top string quartets in the business. On the down side, the Viennese dance tunes distributed among these quartets (tunes that develop unexpected complexities with truly uncanny speed) could use a bit more songfulness: at these junctures one may feel that the player with the melody is listening too much to the rest of the group rather than soaring alone. But on balance: yes, the Chiara String Quartet seems to have been pushed to a deeper level of musical awareness and perhaps a new closeness of cooperation in these unusually strong, sinewy Brahms readings.

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