David Finckel / Wu Han / Daniel Hope / Paul Neubauer

Brahms, Schumann, Mahler: Piano Quartets

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This Deutsche Grammophon release captures an exceptional group of live performances from New York's Alice Tully Hall in early 2015. It was recorded well, mastered, and, remarkably, on sale by the end of April of that year. That's what the old major labels need more of: the agility to spot something good that's happening and follow through on it. The listener's eye may be drawn first to the name of Mahler on an album of piano quartets. Indeed, the 16-year-old Mahler, as a first-year student at the Vienna Conservatory, composed at least one movement of a Piano Quartet in A minor; rarely recorded, it opens the program here. Only its large dimensions (with final violin cadenza) and perhaps a bit of angst hint at the Mahler to come; otherwise it's in a purely Brahmsian vein, but it's entirely competent, and it makes a reasonable curtain raiser. The bigger attraction is the pair of performances of the standard Schumann Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47, and Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25. They're gutsy and passionate, with the motivic thread of the Brahms never getting lost in the flood of emotion. The piano work of Wu Han, ranging from quietly grazing the keys to sharp, agitated accents, anchors the performances in a way that will keep listeners coming back. The four players here are neither an established group nor musical strangers to each other; they are friends and close associates, a combination that can sometimes produce extraordinary chamber performances like the one here.

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