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ON 4043
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ON 4043

Brahms - The String Quintets

The Classical Shop
release date: July 2009

Originally recorded in 2009


Philip Dukes


The Nash Ensemble


Great Hall, City of London Boys' School

7, 20, 21 Dec 2008


Andrew Keener


Will Brown

Record Label


String Quartet

Total Time - 55:37
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  The String Quintets  



String Quintet No.1 in F Op.88

1 I Allegro non troppo ma con brio 10:38
2 II Grave ed appassionato - Allegretto vivace 10:58
3 III Allegro energico 4:57

String Quintet No.2 in G Op.111

4 I Allegro non troppo, ma con brio 12:20
5 II Adagio 6:18
6 III Un poco allegretto 5:31
7 IV Vivace ma non troppo presto 4:55
Brahms: The String Quintets – Nash Ensemble

The Nash Ensemble continues its critically acclaimed Brahms series on Onyx with the two string quintets. The Op. 88 appeared as the culmination of a remarkable burst of activity – in the five years prior to its composition Brahms had written the Second Symphony, Violin Concerto, Academic Festival Overture, Tragic Overture and Second Piano Concerto. What’s more, it was composed along with the Second Cello Sonata and the Second Violin Sonata. Brahms was at the height of his powers, yet, although a favourite of his, the First Quintet has been slow to gain public affection.

The Second Quintet, Op. 111 dates from 1890. Brahms had begun and abandoned sketches for a Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, complaining that he found composition to become harder, and that he thought he might stop altogether. Thankfully, he was coaxed into re-thinking his decision by the clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld, and the Op. 111 would prove not to be his final work. He did, however, write to his publisher, ‘With this note you can take leave of my music, because it is high time to stop’.

"...As with the Nash’s two earlier Brahms discs, the playing here is polished, intelligent, and expressive." "...This recording ranks near the top of a very high-class field."

Richard a Kaplan

Fanfare - January/February 2010

                                      - CD of the Week -
 "This is a superb performance: stylish, expansive, imaginative and exuberant."

Fiona Maddocks

The Observer - 26 July 2009

"Uninspired by his sketches for a Fifth and Sixth Symphony, Brahms intended the G major Quintet to be his last work. A vibrant synthesis of Magyar snap,  Baroque figures and Bohemian lyricism, it is played like a miniature string symphony in this recording from the Nash Ensemble. There’s a wonderful physicality their sound: the violins intenhsly sweet, the violas pungent, the single cello limber and long - legged. The Schubertian F major Quintet is a technical tour de force, again beautifully played."  Anna Picard

The Independent - 2 August 2009

"Composed eight years apart, Brahms’s two String Quintets belong among his finest chamber music, yet they remain surprisingly little known outside the circle of chamber enthusiasts. Brahms employs the mozartean quintet lineup with two violas, and it’s the viola playing that is the highlight of these performances by the Nash Ensemble regulars; Laurence Power and Philip Dukes provide a wonderfully rich and expressive core to the group’s sound which gives it the perfect blend power and flexibility, as well as supplying the perfect pivot around which all the music’s harmonic shifts can rotate. At times, though, the performances do seem to lack a bit of forthrightness, as if all the tonal subtlty was robbing the music of its fundamental robustness, especially in the long opening movements of both works. but the set of variations that telescopes both slow movement and scherzo into the centrepiece of Op88 and in the more regulation slow movement of Op111 all that refinement comes in exquisitely useful."    ****

Andrew Clements

The Guardian - 7 August 2009

"These recordings prove that the Nash Ensemble, Britain’s peerless chamber group, is in better shape than ever. I can’t remember a keener musical pleasure in recent months than hearing violinists Marianne Thorsen and Malin Broman in the allegretto of the F major Quintet, as gracefully entwined as a pair of dancers on an ancient Greek vase. My other favourite moment is the finale of the G major, where the two viola players, Lawrence Power and Philip Dukes, add such subtle swoops to the melody you almost don’t hear them. But really, it’s all wonderful from beginning to end."   *****

Ivan Hewitt

The Daily Telegraph - 22 August 2009

"...The sense of Brahms’s late music coming full circle with a youthful passion and exuberance reminiscent of such post Schubertian early wonders such as the First Orchestral Serenade spills over into the G major Quintet. Here the Nash Ensemble send Brahms’s potentially trenchant textures soaring skywards on  gentle warm-air currents of affectionate phrasing and captivating expresivo. the mastery of this performance is that whatever the supreme technical skill displayed by both composer and performers, the listener is above all drawn in by the music’s captivating ebb and flow. A triumph."

Julian Haylock


International Record Review - October 2009

"With its glorious opening subject, Brahms’s Op.88 String Quintet seems at first like one of his sunniest and sheerly lyrical works, but it is full of elegiac half-lights prompted by the act of memory.Even the apparently innocent and serenade -like central movement is a reworking of two early piano pieces Clara Schumann had played, and is deeply haunted with a sense of regret and loss. It is only fair to say that the Nash Ensemble players, in this splendid new disc, are well aware of the emotional complextities here- they are already implicit in the nervous, rather clipped tempo they adopt for the first movement’s second subject.
One of the glories of their performances of both quintets is the fullness and the richness of sound, something Brahms clearly strove to cultivate in his scoring. Paul Watkins’s heroic, thrusting statement of the cello theme at the outset of the op.111 quintet reminds us that this opening started as a sketch for a symphony, and the theme was probably originally intended for horns. The range of texture, both both virile and mystical, that Brahms conjures in this movement is astonishing, and I’ve seldom heard a performance that differentiates and brings them all out so well as this one. The subtle elegiac melancholia of the middle movements is superbly realised, with a wonderfully earthy vigour to the finale. For sheer expressiveness refinement in these two under-rated and under-performed scores the Nash players don’t quite, for me, knock the Leipzig Quartet with second viuolist Hartmut Rohde off their perch, but this is a marvellous version, in superbly natural sound."   ***

Calum MacDonald   

BBC Music Magazine - November 2009

"The Nash Ensemble continues their Brahms Survey on Onyx, after having already regaled us with the String Sextets and two Piano Quartets. Aided by a very present recorded sound, their bold excursions into some of Brahms’ most striking, but hardly most popular music - the two String Sextets opp.88 and 111 - are highly successful, perfectly pleasing additions to the generously filled catalog. But waiting for them, comparison wise, are, among others, the Raphael Ensemble’s seamlessly well played recordings. Along with recordings by the Hagen Quartet with Gérard Caussé (DG) and Leipzig String Quartet+ (MDG), those are at the top of my heap (MusicWeb International review here). They are glorious, with total precision, and most importantly: with lots of heart. The Guarneri Quartet with Zukerman - an on-demand re-release that stems from close cooperation between ArkivMusic and Sony/RCA - is a new, old contender as well.

What the Nash Ensemble has that these others don’t, is a brazen approach to the music. While they offer op.88 with emboldened forward drive, the Raphael Ensemble’s approach is one of slightly greater refinement and sensitive elasticity. The Nash are also consistently, if marginally, faster than the Raphael Ensemble. In the opening movements of both quintets, the Nash-approach works very well. But in the op.88 Grave ed appassionato they introduce an unnecessarily hectic sense. In the op.111 Adagio the delicate balance and the more refined violins make the Raphael Ensemble a more pleasant listen. Explosive and restless as the Nash is, theirs is an ostentatious approach the Raphael does not choose … and yet the latter manage to be just as fiery in the closing movements. Direct comparison thus takes a little off this new recording’s edge. Then again, that’s not how one would ordinarily listen to these works. Their strong impression on its own immediately carries enough appeal to compel return to this interpretation. The acoustic is rich and with generous - not excessive - reverberation."

MusicWebInternational - 19 November 2009

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