Saturday, April 20, 2002

[4/20/2012] Preview: Sunny and mellow -- it's Brahms in the key of A (continued)


Do I have to explain why the opening of the Brahms Second Piano Quartet makes me think of the opening of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto? (It's hard to imagine that the same thought didn't occur to Brahms.) Here we have the movement played by the great pianist Leon Fleisher, who was all of 30 when he made this famous recording, on Jan. 10, 1959 (he turns 84 in July), part of a complete cycle of the Beethoven piano concertos with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra which has remained in the catalog pretty steadily for more than 50 years.

We've actually already heard the above Fleisher-Szell recording of the first movement of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto -- in the March 2010 post "In the piano conceretos, we hear Beethoven in hard-fought sort-of-harmony with the universe," as part of an "all-star performance," with the second movement played by Wilhelm Kempff (from his stereo Beethoven concerto cycle with Ferdinand Leitner) and the finale played by Emil Gilels (who also recorded a Beethoven cycle with Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, but we heard an earlier recording with Leopold Ludwig). For sentimental reasons I couldn't resist popping it in here, though. As I'm writing this, I'm anticipating a Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center concert tonight (which will have taken place by the time this post goes up) featuring Fleisher and a very different but also wonderful pianist, Gilbert Kalish (born 1935).

As you may have guessed, on Sunday we're going to be focusing on the Brahms A major Piano Quartet. (We came close to doing so back in September 2011, but wound up poking around the First Quartet, the G minor, instead.) Now we're going to hear a little more -- the full exposition -- in the same four performances, and I think you'll hear that the interpretive agenda set out in those opening five bars is carried through. (One textual note: The clips don't end identically, because two of these performances, B and D, take the first-movement repeat, and so use Brahms's "first ending," which brings the first statement of the exposition to a different close, preparing to take us back to the opening [actually bar 2], whereas A and C go straight into the "second ending," which prepares us to proceed into the development section.)

BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26:
i. Allegro non troppo -- exposition only

[A] István Lantos, piano; Bartók Quartet members (Péter Komlós, violin; Géza Németh, viola; Károly Botvay, cello). Hungaroton, recorded early 1970s

{B] Borodin Trio (Luba Edlina, piano; Rostislav Dubinsky, violin; Yuli Turovsky, cello); Rivka Golani, viola. Chandos, recorded July 14-16, 1988

[C] Quatuor Elyséen: Danièle Bellik, piano; Anne-Claude Villars, violin; Simone Feyrabend, viola; Claire Giardelli, cello. Arion, recorded 1990

[D] Sviatoslav Richter, piano; Borodin Quartet members (Mikhail Kopelman, violin; Dmitri Shebalin, viola; Valentin Berlinsky, cello). Philips, recorded live in Tours (France), c1986

A couple of notes about the juxtaposition of "Borodin Trio" and "Borodin Quartet" here. The "Borodin Quartet" of which three members collaborate with pianist Sviatoslav Richter in the Brahms quartet isn't the stupendous original Borodin Quartet, with Rostislav Dubinsky (1923-1997) as first violinist. No, this is the next iteration, after Dubinsky and his wife, pianist Luba Edlina, emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1976. (Second violinist Yaroslav Alexandrov had retired, apparently for health reasons, in 1974.) However, two of the three string players we hear, violist Dmitri Shebalin and cellist Valentin Berlinsky, are indeed holdovers from those glory years. Richter had had an excellent working relationship with the original Borodin Quartet, and maintained it with the revamped version, with the new violinists.

Not long after Dubinsky and Edlina (a wonderful pianist who had played and recorded frequently with the Borodin Quartet) emigrated, they formed a piano trio with a Montreal-based fellow émigré, Yuli Turovsky, and eventually recorded a goodly portion of the piano-trio literature for Chandos. Long-time Sunday Classics readers know that I consider both the original Borodin Quartet and the Borodin Trio among the greatest chamber ensembles to have made records.


We'll do a little more poking around the first movement of the Brahms A major Piano Quartet and then hear the remaining three movements as well.


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At 2:46 PM, Anonymous robert dagg murphy said...

Dear Ken: Your posts are so marvelous. I want to write your mother and thank her. If not your mother then who in your life got you on the right path. Your weekend music posts always lift my spirits and make me even more thankful to be alive.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Why, thank you, Robert!

As a matter of fact, now that you mention it, and as I think on it, it was my mother! The piano I grew up with was hers - both she and her older sister had studied as youngsters.

Of course, as my interest grew, my mother's most frequent comment was "Don't you have enough records?" In my mind the answer was always "obviously not." Curiously, though, given how many things she turns out to have been right about, I've lately begun to think that maybe (finally!) I do. Or almost.



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