CD Review: Brahms - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2

By William Dart

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Brahams String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 by New Zealand String Quartet
Brahams String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 by New Zealand String Quartet

The New Zealand String Quartet has a distinguished track record on disc, balancing homegrown with international repertoire.

Its latest Naxos release offers the first two string quartets of Brahms, nicely complementing the group's three CDs of Mendelssohn from a few years back.

While Mendelssohn wrote his first quartet at 20, Brahms was twice that age in 1873 when his Opus 51 appeared. According to biographer Walter Niemann, the composer had jettisoned 27 earlier attempts, which explains why these two works reveal Brahms at his finest.

Recorded, like the Mendelssohn sets, in the capacious acoustics of Toronto's St Anne's Church, the surging textures of Brahms' first Allegro well convey the dramatic impact this group always has in live concert.

This C minor Quartet is lively on the tempo side, empowering the sometimes feisty musical argument of its first movement. In its Romanze, a tenderly played Poco Adagio, the lower strings have an almost autumnal glow to their tone and the delicate weave of the following Allegretto is exquisite.

Brahms chose A major for his second quartet and, in its Allegro non troppo, the NZSQ catches a slightly wistful Viennese spirit, especially when its second theme is gracefully passed from Helene Pohl to Gillian Ansell.

The two trios of its Minuet are delivered with a Mendelssohnian lightness to the players' bows; and the sheer gusto of its Finale is infectious, from syncopated opening theme to massive pizzicato chords on the home run that could have strayed in from a Tchaikovsky symphony.

Brahms: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2 (Naxos)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Homegrown Brahms shows Kiwi quartet at its best.

- NZ Herald

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