Brahms: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51/1; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51/2

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Globe
WORKS: String Quartet in C minor, Op. 51/1; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 51/2
PERFORMER: Rubio String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: GLO 5164
Following the Norwegian Vertavo Quartet’s recent Simax exploration of Brahms’s Op. 51 pairing comes another installment in the Rubio Quartet’s Brahms survey for Globe. This disappointing issue reaffirms earlier conclusions; the Rubios failed woefully in recent Shostakovich, and also in piano quintets by Brahms and Schumann with pianist Paul Komen. Part of the problem is that their instruments (built by Cambridge maker David Rubio) just don’t possess the depth or tonal variety needed to make Brahms’s dense textures sound other than convalescent. Globe’s recordings, too, are close-balanced and unflatteringly analytical, the first violinist especially sounding shrill and raw-boned here.

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And where these soporific accounts misfire (with playing that’s as unforgivably inattentive as it is often tedious), the severely disciplined, Stentorian-voiced Vertavos were both irrepressibly motoric in Brahms’s C minor Quartet, and blithely eloquent in its A minor sibling. Such qualities don’t inform these Rubio offerings, though Brahmsians should certainly hear the Vertavos, who come far closer to realising authentic sonority and sentiment in these works. Don’t expect even them to supplant well-founded catalogue recommendations – my allegiance remains with the Juilliard Quartet’s Sony version, complete with Brahms’s B flat Quartet Op. 67, and Charles Neidich’s pliantly coercive account of the Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115. Michael Jameson