"It’s tempting to subscribe to the notion that as far as performance on period instruments is concerned, the musical revelations are considerably diminished the further one proceeds into the 19th century. Yet this outstanding new release suggests otherwise. Ears accustomed to the creamy sonorities produced by Isaac Stern and colleagues on a much-admired Sony release will no doubt recoil at the prospect of hearing these glorious works divested of their customary richness. But for me, the results are enlightening and bring an unexpected transparency especially in textures which emphasise the middle and lower ranges. The opening of the B flat Sextet is a case in point. On the Stern disc, Yo Yo Ma’s solo is delivered with wonderful tenderness, and perhaps with an even greater degree of expressivity than that heard on the present releases. Yet the overall effect is less convincing since the accompanying quaver passage-work appears rather turgid in comparison with Hausmusik’s leaner sound.
One might, of course, insist that the modern instruments used by Stern and co afford the opportunity for greater power in climactic passages and a much wider range of dynamics. But this argument is swept away when one hears the exhilarating rustic sounds conjured up by Hausmusik in the central section of the G major scherzo, or the magical use of non-vibrato in the musette variation in the second movement of the B flat. In matters of tempo and the use of rubato, Stern’s group is obviously more expansive and indulgent, but Hausmusik by no means sacrifices flexibility and fluidity, and its interpretations have a warmth that is singularly lacking in the rival period-instrument version from L’Archibudelli (also on Sony). By all accounts, then, this release must be regarded as a benchmark, even for devotees of modern instrument performances."
BBC Music Magazine - September 1999
"Hausmusik’s recordings of the early Romantic repertoire are now well known. It is gratifying that they are now venturing into the later 19th century. As a schoolboy, I clearly remember asking for a violin E string in a music shop, and getting the response, ’Gut or metal, sir?’ It is to be hoped that it will not be long before we regain that position in the string world; for the earthiness of gut strings is clearly evident, not least in the remarkable andante variations of the Bb sextet (surely inspired by the Bach D minor Chaconne, which he later arranged for piano) with its multiple stopping and chaconne-like bass line, where the immense D minor sonorities contrast with the pianissimo of the almost vibrato-less flute-like D major section. The drive and precision of the ensemble are shown in the stunning finale’s coda. Although I find the G major work the less satisfying of the two, it is immaculate in its detail and its purity of intonation. For those who like their Brahms free of cloying continuous vibrato and the often sharp notes of many modern string players, this is undoubtedly the recording to choose."
Early Music Review - October 1999
"At the beginning of the 1860s Brahms had just seen Liszt and his programmatic works proclaimed as the way forward for German music, and had instinctively reacted against them. For Brahms the future depended on a re-evaluation of the past, building on what his idol Beethoven had achieved in the traditional genres. The symphony and the string quartet were the icons of that lineage, and Brahms worked endlessly to perfect his command of those media before he allowed any of his efforts to reach an audience.
But the string sextet - pairs of violins, villas and cellos - was a different matter. Here was a form of chamber music that carried far less historical baggage than the quartet, yet still epitomised the kind of absolute music he believed in. The B flat Sextet Op.18 appeared in 1860, the G major Op.36 five years late. They are among the most radiantly melodic and attractive of all his chamber works.
Though the use of period instruments in Brahms’s chamber music is by no means widespread, there are such versions of the sextets by the Dutch-based ensemble L’Archibudelli (Sony) and the British group Hausmusik. L’Archibudelli’s accounts are muscular and impassioned, but their phrasing is sometimes rather four=square.
Hausmusik get everything right - their sound is rich and wonderfully detailed, their sense of the music’s spaciousness and arching phrase-structure perfectly caught.
There are very fine but more self-consciously cultured versions by the Raphael Ensemble Hyperion and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Chandos) as well as the classic accounts by the Amadeus Quartet with viola player Cecil Aronowitz and cellist William Pleeth (Deutsche Grammophon). All are worth hearing, but Hausmusik provide that little bit extra."
The Guardian - 09 March 2001
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