The Berlin Piano Quartet perform works by Brahms, Fauré and Schnittke

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COMPOSERS: Brahms; Fauré; Schnittke
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms • Fauré • Schnittke
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1; Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1; Schnittke: Piano Quartet
PERFORMER: Berlin Piano Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: RCA Red Seal 88875175552

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Aimez-vous Brahms? Unusual to find Fauré in German company, perhaps, given the divisions in French music that simmered after the Franco-Prussian War around the influence of Wagner. Fauré and members of his circle sought to escape all that – but beneath the surface, Brahms is not so inappropriate. One of Fauré’s great musical passions was Schumann (later in life he made an edition of the German composer’s piano music), who also vitally influenced Brahms; and Fauré’s own works often do well when presented with an awareness of those roots, combined with Gallic rigour and rhythm. The Schnittke forms a fine bridge from Fauré to Brahms, as well as an intriguing contrast; it’s a good example of unusual and deserving piano quartet repertoire, quoting from a fragmentary scherzo composed by the 17-year-old Gustav Mahler.

The Berlin Piano Quartet is a mixed-nationality ensemble, their linking force being the Berlin Philharmonic, of which they are members. Violist Micha Afkham and pianist Kim Barbier in 2014 joined forces with the Franco-Swiss violinist Christophe Horák and French cellist Bruno Delepelaire; the playing is as classy as one might expect from that elite (in the best sense) orchestra, replete with suitable beauty of tone. The Brahms is searingly strong stuff – though never lacking in high spirits for the Hungarian Gypsy-style finale. The Fauré is attentive, intelligently balanced and tender, though perhaps the last movement could do with a tad more surge and sweep; and the brief Schnittke is played with care and affection.

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Jessica Duchen