Brahms: Piano Quartets Nos 1-3; Three Intermezzi, Op. 117

LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Quartets Nos 1-3; Three Intermezzi, Op. 117
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano); Leopold String Trio
Marc-André Hamelin could not


have chosen more challenging

repertory for his debut recording

as a chamber musician for the

Hyperion label than the three

Brahms Piano Quartets. Apart

from the fearsome technical

demands of the piano part, these

works encompass a vast intellectual

and expressive range; the frequent

recourse to full-blooded textures is

almost symphonic in conception.

Not surprisingly Hamelin

makes light work of the tricky

piano writing. The Scherzo

of the C minor Piano Quartet

(No. 3) is dispatched with dazzling

brilliance yet never sacrifices the

music’s underlying sense of stress

and anxiety. Even more stunning

is Hamelin’s fingerwork in the

Rondo alla Zingarese of No. 1 in G

minor, the playing outstripping all

rivals in terms of its blistering pace

and unbridled aggression.

At the opposite end of the

emotional spectrum, he draws some

beautifully limpid sounds from the

fragile Intermezzo in the G minor

and the darkly brooding mystery of

the slow movement of the A major,

maintaining this vein of

introspection in a deeply

searching account of the

Op. 117 piano pieces.

The Leopold

String Trio

responds admirably

to Hamelin’s



providing a


homogenised sound

that nonetheless sustains

sufficient variety of tone and

articulation to avoid any hint of

stodginess, except perhaps in the long

first movement of the G minor where

at times I missed a sense of forward

momentum. Although the piano

tone lacks a little warmth in some

climaxes, the recording has a good

presence and welcome clarity.

All in all then, this is a

highly recommendable modern

version, though in the last resort

it doesn’t quite have the magical

qualities of the Rolls-Royce team of

Stern, Laredo, Ma and Ax on Sony’s

release, or the intensity of the Beaux

Arts Trio with Walter Trampler from

the early 1970s, the latter restored


in spectacular SACD sound.