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Brahms Piano Quartet Review

Album. Released 2004.  

BBC Review

An extraordinary gathering of talents...Argerich's fire, Kremer's character, Maisky's...

Andrew McGregor 2004

Just look at the names: Martha Argerich, Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet and Mischa Maisky. How did they ever get them together for long enough to make a studio recording rather than a warts'n'all live performance? That takes some synchronisation of diaries, and even then there'll be reservations in many minds. With a quartet of such powerful musical personalities, will there be any room left for Brahms and Schumann?

It turns out we needn't have worried: this combination's been tried and tested at the Verbier Festival in the Brahms, and at Kremer's Lockenhaus Festival for the Schumann, excellent preparation for six days of intensive work in Berlin in February 2002. There's an attractive historical link that neither of the note-writers can avoid bringing to our attention: Schumann wrote his Fantasiestücke Op. 88 for his wife Clara, and it was Clara Schumann who owned Brahms's Piano Quartet No. 1, as she was the pianist for the first performance in 1861. Clara was the muse for these two works, and Martha Argerich follows in Clara's footsteps according to the accompanying essay...but in a very real sense it is Argerich who's first among equals here, her impetuous virtuosity and surging passion driving the performances.

Not that the others are overshadowed for a second, and that's the strength of this extraordinary gathering of talents; Argerich's fire, Kremer's character, Maisky's expressive freedom, Bashmet's beautiful viola sound: all are willingly offered up to the greater good, tempered and re-fashioned in Brahms that's all the better perhaps for the ensemble being subtly less than the sum of its parts. From Argerich's quizzical opening phrase to the expressive rubato in the Intermezzo, the impressive breadth of the slow movement, and the thrill of the explosive Hungarian finale this is one of those chamber music performances that resonates in the mind long after the last notes have died away.

There's a joy and warmth about the Schumann that makes detailed criticism irrelevant. Kremer and Maisky bring a fragile beauty to the lines of the Duett, caressing every phrase as though it were the loveliest thing they'd ever seen, while Argerich's support is delicate and tender, but never self-effacing.

This generous, exuberant music-making is immensely rewarding, it's very well recorded, and I hope it's not the last studio project we'll hear from this fab four; on this evidence they should clear at least a week a year to spend in each other's company for the foreseeable future.

Like This? Try These:
Schumann: String Quartets (Zehetmair Quartet)
Schubert: Piano Trio no. 2 (Florestan Trio)
Gidon Kremer: Happy Birthday

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