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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Quintet in f minor for Piano and String Quartet, Op. 34 (1864)
Quintet in b minor for Clarinet and String Quartet, Op. 115 (1893)
Thomas Friedli, clarinet
Philippe Bianconi, piano
Quartet Sine Nomine: Patrick Genet, François Gottreaux, violins; Nicolas Pache, viola; Marc Jaermann, ‘cello
Recorded in Salle de la Fondation Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland, December 1996 [DDD]
CLAVES CD 50-9608 [79.23]
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This recording won a "5" award from Diapason Magazine, Paris, in 1997. These are clean, forthright, skilled performances embodying the highest standards of musicianship. The New York Times praised the Quartet Sine Nomine as "…precise but wholly natural... they are models of informed taste..."

Of the nine works by Brahms that started out to be symphonies, the Quintet in f for Piano and String Quartet was the second. He got it as far as a string quintet, arranged it for piano duet (this version was eventually published), worked on it as a concerto for piano and orchestra and then a sort of concerto for piano and string quartet which is of how it was published in 1864. First performed at last only in 1891, it met with general critical and popular enthusiasm (track 7, 8).

Those who want that extra dash of daring, excitement, and sensuality must set to work searching used record shops. The Piano Quintet was performed with almost terrifying passion and intensity by the Borodin Quartet and Sviatoslav Richter in 1959; after two monophonic LP releases in the USA (on CBS and Wesminster), this recording hasn’t been heard from in over 25 years but is worth whatever you have to do to get hold of it. The original Westminster recording, the first mono hi-fi recording produced by Kurt List in brilliant sound for its time (1951), or any time, was played with intensity and Viennese style by Jörg Demus and the Vienna Konzerthaus Quartet, and was briefly available recently on a Japanese HMV CD MVCW 19023. The current custodians of the Wesminster tapes, DG-Universal, have announced their intention NOT to release on CD any of the Vienna chamber music recordings, so the wait for this one may be long indeed.

The Clarinet Quintet, published in 1893 when Brahms was 60, has always struck me as depressing. Perhaps for that reason I enjoyed this clear, forthright performance very much . The clarinet is played with assurance, sensuous phrasing, and rich tonal variety. The tempi are just right to emphasize transparency and keep things moving and yet allow some contrasting softness.

For a little more Vienna, you may prefer Philips DUO 446 172-2 [ADD], which includes all the Brahms quintets at a bargain price. The Clarinettist (Herbert Stähr) is not quite so assured or graceful but is still very fine and the string players of the Berlin Philharmonic Octet play with a little less poise but with more verve and drama. Their Piano Quintet has the piano (Werner Haas) more forward and, while they are no Borodiners, they aren’t afraid to take some risks and generate a little more heat.

Paul Shoemaker

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Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op.115

Con moto

Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34

Allegro non troppo

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