String Quintets & Sextets/Brahms
June 30, 2014
FOGHORN CD 2012
What a diverse set of releases I got to review this month! A DVD of Stravinsky in Hollywood, The Banner Saga a video soundtrack, piano music of Bronislaw Kaper, The Rat Patrol, a 60’s TV Series, and finally a new recording of Brahms. Along with coffee I put on the String Quintet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 88 (1882) of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and what a pleasant way to start the day! Brahms had written to Clara Schumann declaring it as one of his finest works. Part of a new release from the Alexander String Quartet a 2 CD release which also includes his second String Quintet in G Major, Op. 111 (1890), the String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18 (1860), and the String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36 (1864-65). This is my second experience with the Alexander String Quartet, the first being Gershwin/Kern release https://sdtom.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/alexander-string-quartetgershwin-and-kern/, delightful and well played arrangements of two 20th century American composers.
Written in the last third of his life the upbeat well structured Quintet No. 1 is a breath of fresh air and is sure to put a smile on your face whether you’re listening to it or doing something else it radiates brightness. Some have given it the title “Spring” but this was something that Brahms had never heard. The quintet adds an additional viola to their standard two violin, viola, and cello combination. This is a work that features some very nice harmony as well as counterpoint.
If the first Quintet was considered upbeat the second Quintet is even more so. Brahms had returned from a vacation in Italy and the rest and relaxation showed even more. No darkness at all in this composition it shows Brahms in a positive light. This work also features some extremely fine harmony and counterpoint. While some of his works have been labeled heavy and Germanic sounding this sounds more like Mozart might have written it.
The second CD features his two Sextets written in the first half of the 1860’s. The ensemble features two cellos, violas, and violins which open the door to a work that offers more in the way of a complex work. While Brahms thought that he was the inventor of this combination it had been done earlier by Boccherini. It can be said that these works can take its place with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht . The combination has not been done often and I would encourage listeners to also explore these works. The first Sextet written at the age of 23 is a bit more on the stoic style that you’re more familiar with when you think of Brahms. It shows striking maturity. The Second Sextet written five years later reveals a motif that spells the first name of the woman, Agathe von Siebold, who he was engaged to at one time but abruptly broke it off. The work translates into a work of love, relief, and regret. Brahms, who also had strong feelings for Clara Schumann, remained a bachelor for his entire life.
Well recorded and played this CD further establishes The Alexander String Quartet as an important force in chamber music. If you like chamber music you won’t be disappointed.
STRING SEXTET NO. 1 IN B-FLAT MAJOR
1. Allegro (14:03)
2. Andante ma moderato (9:16)
3. Scherzo (3:19)
4. Rondo (10:02)
STRING SEXTET NO. 2 IN G MAJOR
5. Allegro (14:24)
6. Scherzo (7:32)
7. Adagio (8:23)
8. Allegro (8:46)
STRING QUINTET NO. 1 IN F MAJOR
1. Allegro (11:01)
2. Grace (9:36)
3. Allegro (5:31)
STRING QUINTET NO. 2 IN G MAJOR