Mendelssohn/Brahms: Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 1; Piano Quartet in A, Op. 26

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn/Brahms
LABELS: ASV Quicksilva
WORKS: Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 1; Piano Quartet in A, Op. 26
PERFORMER: Schubert Ensemble of London
CATALOGUE NO: CD QS 6199
This recording completes the Schubert Ensemble’s three-disc survey of the three piano quartets by Mendelssohn and the three by Brahms. The Mendelssohn quartets are precocious works of his extreme youth, written at the ages of 13 and 14. The best of them is the last, in B minor, dedicated to Goethe; but the one recorded here, although hardly likely to detain anyone for long, has a particularly attractive slow movement. As for the Brahms, this is his largest chamber work, and one that has always been overshadowed by its more spectacular, if less genial, companion-piece in G minor (the one with the ‘gypsy’ finale). Brahms himself set great store by both works, and chose them to make his Viennese debut as composer and pianist in 1862.

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The Schubert Ensemble gives accomplished, well-thought-out performances of both works here, and no one is likely to be disappointed by them. In the last resort, the playing perhaps lacks that last ounce of imaginativeness which can lift the music off the page. Some of the string playing is a little thin in tone; and the finale of the Brahms, although admirably energetic, doesn’t really have the lilt it needs. My favourite recording of the Brahms remains Rudolf Serkin’s 1932 version with members of the Busch Quartet (EMI), which has tremendous verve and vitality; but those wanting a modern version could do a lot worse than investigate the much broader and warmer account by Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. Misha Donat