Various Artists

Brahms: Piano Quintet; String Sextett

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Brahms: Piano Quintet; String Sextett Review

by Mike D. Brownell

Brahms' single contribution to the scant piano quintet repertoire is recognized as one of his finest compositions as well as one of the greatest works of piano chamber music in the canon. Written well in advance of the First Symphony, the Piano Quintet nonetheless has a broad, sweeping, orchestral feeling to it. The piano, in a typically dark, dense, Brahmsian fashion, dominates throughout. This recording, made in the converted Heimbach Hydroelectric Power Station, falls short of capturing this intensity, particularly from the piano. The lower end of the ensemble is typically muddy and indistinct, and the left hand of the piano in particular is nowhere near strong enough. Other aspects of the performance are generally acceptable; the ensemble's interpretation is appropriately robust and spacious, intonation (save for some difficulty in the upper strings) is mostly accurate, and pacing is well-thought out. The sound quality of the performance venue, however, quickly negates most of the positive performance qualities.

The second disc in this set features Brahms' Second String Sextet in G major, Op. 36. The string sextet in general is a notoriously difficult instrumentation for good intonation and this piece is no exception. Sextets are often performed by an amalgamation of musicians rather than a standing, well-acquainted ensemble. Such is the case with this group, made of respected, sought-after musicians who simply have a near-impossible time playing in tune together.

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