Brahms: String Sextet No.1 in B flat; String Sextet No. 2 in G

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: String Sextet No.1 in B flat; String Sextet No. 2 in G
PERFORMER: L’Archibudelli
CATALOGUE NO: SK 68252
Emerging in the tempestuous wake of his D minor Piano Concerto, Brahms’s two Sextets for strings were anything but the confrontational after-shocks they might have been. His mature quartets lay some time ahead; none quite rekindled the burgeoning ecstasy of the Sextets, the Op. 18 work (1858-60) being the more ebullient and optimistic of the pair.

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L’Archibudelli play it with unadorned thoroughness; gut strings impart attractive warmth and textural transparency, but collectors owning the superb ASMF Chamber Ensemble (Chandos) or Raphael Ensemble (Hyperion) versions will find this confessionally intimate account wanting in sonority. But the strengths of L’Archibudelli’s approach – great idiomatic subtlety, fine dynamic gradation, tight control of line and articulation, and above all, that freshness and individuality all too readily sacrificed to over-familiarity, are not easily bettered. The G major Sextet, Op. 36 (1864-65), never overwhelms with ponderous rhetoric, but makes its point with sure-footed gravity, though despite modern perceptions of the Brahmsian sound, it’s all a little underweight, and I wouldn’t exchange this disc for my current first choice in the Sextets (also on Sony), from Stern, Ma, Laredo and friends. Michael Jameson