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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Quintets & Sextets

  • String Sextet #1, Op. 18 *
  • String Sextet #2, Op. 36 *
  • String Quintet #1, Op. 88
  • String Quintet #2, Op. 111
Toby Appel, viola
* David Requiro, cello
Alexander String Quartet
Foghorn Classics CD2012 2CDs
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This review is going to be short, because so highly-acclaimed is this disc that my opinion isn't particularly important, if ever it was. Simply put, after delighting the critical establishment with some marvelous Piano Quintets, the Alexander String Quartet and friends turn in an unbelievable set of the Brahms Sextets and Quintets for Strings.

Violist Toby Appel joins the Quartet throughout the program and easily reminds me how beautiful an instrument the viola can be. Nor is cellist David Requiro a mere guest artist. Folks, this is what chamber music is about! Deeply moving, highly involved playing is backed by exceptional sound quality that is warm and shows the genuine partnership between the players. There is such a careful attention to detail that each voice emerges with clarity and focus. As I wrote in my previous review of the Alexander String Quartet, Brahms' chamber writing is preferable to his orchestral work because of the heaviness and occasional murkiness found in the latter. In works such as these, scored densely and with many moving parts, the same risk of heaviness is run. But not with these players. The transparency and intensity of the musicianship is outstanding. No voice overpowers another, and each movement organically follows the next.

These works don't get much attention; all but one (the Quintet #2) is new to the listings of Classical Net. Much like the Alexander String Quartet, they get overshadowed by more famous offerings. Don't be fooled. After 30 years, the Alexander String Quartet is demanding that we take a listen, just as after all this time, Brahms can still surprise us. These are deeply personal works in equally personal performances. Don't miss them.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman