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Brahms: Piano Quintet; String Quintet No. 2

Pavel Haas Quartet; Boris Giltburg (piano) (Supraphon)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Brahms
Piano Quintet; String Quintet No. 2
Pavel Haas Quartet; Boris Giltburg (piano)
Supraphon SU4306-2   71:44 mins

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Brahms tried out several formats for a powerful four-movement work in F minor that he composed in 1862. First it was a string quintet, then a sonata for two pianos; but eventually he took the best of both worlds and turned it into a piano quintet. Now perhaps the heart of the repertoire for this combination, it has been recorded a great many times, with each ensemble finding a different way to deal with its sometimes awkward demands in terms of balance, speed and texture.

The Pavel Haas Quartet and Boris Giltburg take on the piece with no holds barred: this is an all-giving, full-on version in which the sense of involvement is total and the exhilaration scarcely stops, but for the beautifully tranquil second movement. A slight downside is that sometimes it seems to go a bit too far, resulting in a certain heaviness, especially in the first movement, and in the outer movements aggressive string sounds become rather dominant for much of the time. This can work when playing in a big hall, but through headphones it can be overwhelming.

The String Quintet – a later, gentler and more genial piece – suffers less from that effect, while sharing the undoubtedly thrilling qualities of innate ensemble playing, strong instinct for tempo and the sense of sheer love for the music. Sound quality is strong and bright, though perhaps contributes to the in-your-face aspect of the recording.

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Jessica Duchen