Johannes Brahms: Piano Quartet No 2 Gustav Mahler: Piano Quartet

review brahms x1 cong

Brahms (born 1833) spent part of 1860 in the country suburb of Hamm, outside his native Hamburg, where he enjoyed the peace and quiet. The Piano Quartet No 2 was written about this time, and Brahms reported that it received a sympathetic reception. The work is 48 minutes long and makes wide use of sonata form.

We try and write these reviews for people who like nice music but aren’t bothered about the technicalities, but we’d guess that even people who judge whether Van Schteffindick’s conducting of Schweinsteiger’s 7th is better than Hans Gruber’s classic recording will find this appealing: it’s very fine music played to a high standard by a tight group of players, who give the pieces a modern freshness.

It’s music that elevates the listener to a higher level, even if that is just to imagine you’re a character in a Jane Austen novel listening to music being played in a posh house (and yes, we know Ms Austen died before Brahms was born). It’s good late evening music (or music to work to).

The opening movement is sad yet warm, featuring cello and violin, and cross-rhythms (the latter’s existence we were alerted to by the sleeve notes). The second movement continues the sadness but gradually picks up for the third movement, the scherzo, while the finale, the allegro, is faster and more sprightly, with a folk / dance feel to it.

The slight feeling of sadness continues in Mahler’s more romantic and expressive piano quartet, the last 11 minutes of the CD, and written when he was just 16. The sleeve notes say the quartet movement was the prize-winning work that crowned Mahler’s first year at conservatory. The work forms part of the soundtrack in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, apparently.

The playing is first rate: Eldar Nebolsin, piano; Anton Barakhovsky, violin; Alexander Zemtsov, viola; Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt, cello.

Out now on Naxos 8572799.

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