Brahms: Piano Quintet; String Quartet in A minor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Quintet; String Quartet in A minor
PERFORMER: Takács Quartet; Stephen Hough (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67551

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Hyperion already has these works in its catalogue in excellent performances by the New Budapest Quartet and Piers Lane, but these new versions from Stephen Hough and the Takács Quartet strike me as even better, and in more modern sound.

The Piano Quintet makes a logical culmination to Hough’s fine versions of the solo piano works. In both Quintet and Quartet the performers give bright, focused, alert, almost ‘classical’ readings, very different from the ponderous brown studies that marked Brahms performances of yesteryear.

Indeed I did start to wonder if these performances, wiry and rhythmically vital as they are, were rather light-weight for the music’s sheer amplitude of passion and affect – but then something like the Quintet’s Scherzo, excoriatingly exciting, would come along; or the hint (and more than a hint) of wild gypsy passion in the finale of the A minor Quartet.

This is an altogether recommendable release, therefore – yet the competition in these works is multifarious and very fierce.

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Excellent though Hough and the Takács are – and certainly they would make my top ten – this new Hyperion disc hardly displaces the greatest accounts of the past (Rubinstein and the Guarneri for instance, or Richter and the original Borodins, in the Quintet); and I recently reviewed a set by Leon Fleischer and the Emerson Quartet, coupling the Quintet with all three Brahms string quartets, that still seems to me to establish a current benchmark. But if you happen to want this coupling, then this issue would be an excellent choice. Calum MacDonald