LABELS: MDG Gold
ALBUM TITLE: Leipzig Quartet
WORKS: String Sextet in G; String Quartet in C minor
PERFORMER: Leipzig QuartetHartmut RohdePeter Bruns
CATALOGUE NO: 308 1/80
There’s a highly expressive German word, Schwung, that signifies a combination of vigour, momentum and swing. That’s the quality above all that the Leipzig Quartet brings to Brahms. On the whole the Leipzigers don’t drive the music too hard, but there’s a motoring energy to the first movements of both Brahms works. And when the Sextet’s second theme comes soaring in for the first time the effect is rather like hang-gliding from the top of a mountain. The dark urgency of the Quartet’s first movement is just as impressive, and the whole performance has deep seriousness, as well as superb polished precision, that holds the attention right to the end. What I miss is the chamber subtlety, the warmly elegiac sadness, and the mysterious contrasts of half-lights and sudden full sunlight the Raphael Ensemble (Hyperion) bring to the Sextet, and the Belcea Quartet (EMI) find so tellingly in the intermezzo third movement of Op. 51 No. 1. By contrast the Leipzig Quartet sounds too single-minded – too determined to vindicate Brahms’s symphonic strengths to have much time for Romantic chiaroscuro.
Its approach to the Bruckner Quintet is generally more relaxed, at least as regards tempo – Bruckner needs momentum, too, but it’s usually more of a steady unfolding, however impassioned the surface activity. They are superb – no qualifications – in the Quintet’s great Adagio. In fact if for you Bruckner’s Quintet simply is the Adagio then this is an excellent recommendation. But while the fullness of tone and controlled intensity work well in parts of the other movements, I miss the subtlety, transparent inner dialogue and at times magical suggestiveness L’Archibudelli (Sony) bring to the quieter, more mysterious passages, and the latter certainly has more of a sense of mercurial dance music in the scherzo. L’Archibudelli are also a degree more convincing in the early Bruckner Quartet – a student exercise, yes, but more than merely academic. Stephen Johnson