Brahms: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51/1; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51/2; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 67; Clarinet Quintet in B minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51/1; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51/2; String Quartet in B flat, Op. 67; Clarinet Quintet in B minor
PERFORMER: Charles Neidich (clarinet); Juilliard String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: S2K 66285 DDD
Brahms had already destroyed twenty quartets by the time, at the age of forty, he finally turned in the first two quartets, Op. 51, to his publisher. Any trepidation he may have felt is powerfully conveyed by the opening of Op. 51/1, made all the more exciting here by Joel Krosnick’s well-defined quavers in the bass, pointing up the texture.

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Indeed, Brahms’s imaginative textures are well contrasted throughout by the Juilliard – from the punchy contrapuntal and two-against-three writing in the finale of Op. 51/2 to the viola solo against muted violins and pizzicato cello in Op. 67’s Agitato. When the clarinet is added for the quintet, even more becomes possible: either blending it into the middle of the string sound, or launching it soaring out high above them, as in the Adagio, with Charles Neidich’s tone never shrill, even on the highest notes.

Humour is not a word one associates with Brahms, so one looks in vain for a scherzo in either quartets or quintet. In its place are memorable movements like the desperately unfunny little syncopated minor tune in Op. 51/1, or the mysterious, muted Agitato of Op. 67, alternating with a carefree rustic più animando.

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The Juilliard, a mature, well-integrated quartet, provide reliable and deeply considered interpretations of these works, rich products of Brahms’s own maturity. Janet Banks