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Brahms: String Sextets

Brahms: String Sextets

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Shortlisted for the Gramophone Awards!

Brahms was one of the first composers to write for pairs of violins, violas and cellos, blazing the trail for Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Korngold and Schoenberg. His two sextets are early works, composed in 1860 and 1865 respectively. Brahms wrote to his publisher that the second was in ‘the same joyful vein’ as the first. Yet the composer’s life was somber at this time: his mother died suddenly and his romantic relationship with soprano Agathe von Siebold ended in failure; indeed, the first movement of the sextet opens with a viola motif on the notes A-G-A-D-B-E (AGADHE in German notation)… The members of the Belcea Quartet called in their friends Tabea Zimmermann and Jean-Guihen Queyras to record these peaks of the chamber repertory following a concert tour to some of Europe’s major venues.


These are such lovable works, full of lyricism and charm, and these performances don’t skimp on that. I was taken in immediately in Op 18 by the way cellist Antoine Lederlin phrases the exquisite opening melody, and he’s even more persuasive in the finale – his portamento had me positively swooning.

-- Gramophone

For admirers of Brahms's two String Sextets, immersion in a fresh recording is like reuniting with old friends.

In the Sextet No. 1, the players indulge in the first movement's weeping strings and allow Brahms's yearning to emerge as strongly as his celebration of romance. The extra weight of viola and cello in the second movement goes to the heart, and the conclusion is wonderful. After the light diversion of the third movement, the conclusion's back and forth between the higher- and lower-pitched instrument showcases Brahms's early mastery of color and texture.

The divine intertwining of the two violins in the opening movement of the Sextet No. 2 depicts the failure of one of Brahms's early relationships. The second movement begins tinged in sadness. Five minutes into the third movement, the playing grows sublime, with dynamic changes perfectly judged. The finale's heartfelt opening, followed by another wonderful trade-off between high- and lower-pitched strings, leads to a delicious scherzo and marvelous conclusion. An absolute joy.

-- Stereophile

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Alpha
    • UPC/Barcode: 3760014197925
    • Item Number: ALPHA792