Schubert Ensemble of London

Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1; Mendelssohn: Piano Quartet No. 2

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Although it may sometimes seem like it, not every English chamber music ensemble is first rate. There are the occasional clunkers with musicians who sound not all too sure of themselves playing music they're not all that on top of. On the evidence of this disc, however, the Schubert Ensemble is clearly a first-rate chamber music group completely sure of itself and totally on top of the music being played. A passionate group with strong rhythms and a wonderful sense of style, the Schubert Ensemble unites the improvisatory energy of an ad hoc group of soloists with the cogent ensemble of a longterm chamber music group. In this ingenious coupling of Mendelssohn's F minor Piano Quartet with Brahms' G minor Piano Quartet, the Schubert Ensemble, while always remaining true to itself, skillfully adopts the sound to each composer's work. The Mendelssohn is played with a lightness and grace that in no way mitigates the group's passion and the Brahms with a power and weight that in no way diminishes the energy. While listeners may have their personal favorites among previous recordings of these works -- with its polish and power, the classic 1971 Gilels/Amadeus recording of the Brahms' G minor Quartet remains the recording to beat -- the Schubert Ensemble's recording is well worth hearing by those who enjoy German Romantic chamber music. Sanctuary's 1997 digital sound is warm and deep, if possibly a bit too thick in the Brahms.

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