The Brodsky Quartet & Natacha Kudritskaya perform Brahms’s chamber works

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 51/1; Piano Quintet
PERFORMER: Natacha Kudritskaya (piano); Brodsky Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Chandos CHAN 10892

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It’s 0 to 100 in three seconds: from the first notes and initial crescendo of the Brahms Op. 51 No.1, the Brodsky Quartet means serious business. All of this long-established ensemble’s considerable prowess is brought to bear on the composer’s turbulent chamber music; an enormous and remarkable intensity suffuses the atmosphere throughout. The result is inspiring, profoundly unsettling and a true visceral thrill.

No individual phrase seems without meaning; the ensemble’s balance shifts and morphs with apparent ease, as if there is no other way the music could possibly sound. Their varied shadings of vibrato, tonal texture and portamento make for a fabulously colourful interpretation that does not fear to evoke extremes of sweetness or ferocity; and they can bring an ineffable translucence to the ‘Romanze’ second movement. Everything, in short, is focused on Brahms’s meaning; superficialities of technique never become an end in themselves. It can leave you feeling quite wrung out, and so it should.

The Piano Quintet is a fine disc-mate to the C minor Quartet; equally intense, of course, but with the piano adding sonic contrast. This work went through several permutations in format before settling into this chamber version – the music is not symphonic in scope for nothing – and the Brodskys find a strong-toned match in the pianist Natacha Kudritskaya, who blends seamlessly into their emotional world, whether in the meditative tranquility of the Andante or the magnificent energy of the Scherzo. This is a disc I think I’ll be returning to many times, with great joy.

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Jessica Duchen