Mojca Erdmann and the Kuss Quartet perform string quartets by Brahms and Schoenberg

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Schoenberg
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms * Schoenberg
WORKS: Brahms: String Quartet No. 3, Sommerabend, Mondenschein, Wie Melodien zieht es mir; Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Kuss Quartet; Mojca Erdmann (soprano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4166

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Brahms’s Quartet No. 3 finds him in unusually playful mood. The Vivace gallops in with such a display of rhythmic cross-cutting, it could be a Mozartian dance finale that’s arrived unfashionably early. The Kuss Quartet artfully exploits its disruptive mischief and innate asymmetry. They are also nicely stealthy in the elusive second subject, as it creeps around in the harmonic undergrowth of the development before emerging into rational daylight. Violist William Coleman, duetting with cellist Mikayel Hakhnazaryan, produces an unashamedly gorgeous third movement, just as ‘amorous and affectionate’ as Brahms described it. The mock-rustic final theme spawns a cavalcade of variations, each exquisitely characterised, leading with ingenious inevitabilty back to the Quartet’s first themes. Wit lights up this account, every joke perfectly timed, every nuance explored.

If Brahms turns cartwheels with the Classical style, Schoenberg bids it farewell as we are plunged into the anxious world of his Second Quartet. Again we are in safe hands: the Kuss breathes its surging lines with commanding confidence balanced with questioning humility. Mässig has a spacious grandeur, while Sehr rasch is bitingly articulate. Perhaps we just miss extremes of pianissimo. Mojca Erdmann lends expressive power to the ‘Litanei’: her ‘Entrückung’ is perhaps more volubly torrid than the cooler, remote beauty of Sandrine Piau (Diotima Quartet) or Christiane Oelze (Leipzig Quartet). She is in her element for three Brahms songs, sung with touching simplicity and radiant focus.

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Helen Wallace