Brahms Piano Quartets CD review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS BRAHMS PIANO QUARTETS ON PERIOD INSTRUMENTS

BRAHMS: Primrose Piano Quartet (Meridian Records 2CDs CDE84650) ★★★★

Brahms' three piano quartets have been criticized for having overly dense textures. Is part of the problem due to the powerful modern grand pianos they are played on? This fascinating new set recorded with pianist John Thwaites using three instruments from Brahms' own time – and the string players switching to gut strings – suggests this may be the case. The Primrose went to Vienna's Gerd Hecher collection of instruments, and Thwaites used pianos by Blüthner, Ehrbar and Streicher, the last of which is identical to one given to Brahms in 1868. The three quartets were then recorded in Ehrbar Hall, where Brahms often played. Clarity and historical accuracy are admirable but the PPQ also deliver lithe, crisp and enjoyable performances as well. In the G minor quartet's Andante they skilfully balance its lyricism and disturbing unstable harmonies while the C minor quartet's scherzo is tempestuous and exciting. Excellent recorded sound too.

Norman Stinchcombe

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