WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 in C minor; Piano Quintet in F minor
PERFORMER: Quatuor Ébène; Akiko Yamamoto (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 216 6222
The young Paris-based Quatuor Ébène has been winning glowing reviews since its formation ten years ago and won this year’s BBC Music Magazine Newcomer Award. Here they bring rhythmic incisiveness and flexibility of phrasing to two dark masterpieces by Brahms.
The C minor Quartet requires playing of the utmost passion if its complex textures are not to sound clogged, and this is what it receives here, though the delicacy and affection the players bring to the two middle movements are also admirable qualities too seldom heard.
Akiko Yamamoto proves to be an ideal partner in the Piano Quintet, which achieves an extraordinary sense of drive and emotional abandon in the Finale. Quatuor Ébène are not over-concerned to produce a beautiful sound per se, and there is a gruff quality to some of their playing at the most heated moments, which is in character with the music.
A very positive impression, then – but Quatuor Ébène are up against powerful competition. The set by Leon Fleischer and the Emerson Quartet, coupling the Piano Quintet with all three Brahms string quartets, continues to occupy the current benchmark position for me. Nevertheless, if not quite in the topmost bracket, the Quatuor Ébène make an impressive entry in the lists. Calum MacDonald