Brahms: String Quartets, Opp. 67, 51/1 & 2

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: String Quartets, Opp. 67, 51/1 & 2
PERFORMER: Alban Berg Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 54829 2 DDD
The stepchild among the three string quartets Brahms left to posterity (he claimed, dogged as he felt by the spirit of Beethoven, to have destroyed more than 20 youthful efforts) is the last of them, Op. 67. Its comparative neglect may well be due to its awkwardness in performance; but it is an attractive work, and one in which Brahms hit upon a genial idea that he used again in his late Clarinet Quintet: the finale is a set of variations which eventually works its way around to the first movement’s opening subject, revealing in the process the hidden kinship between the two ideas.

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The Alban Berg Quartet play this music, and its two more overtly dramatic companions, with the impeccable technique one has come to expect of them, and they have been very well recorded. That said, I found their view of the intense finale of the C minor Quartet Op. 51/1 curiously cool and uninvolving, and the opening movement of Op. 67 altogether too easy-going to convey the music’s ebullient mood. At little more than half an hour the second disc (containing a live recording of Op. 51/2) is far from generously filled. Misha Donat