Brahms' second string sextet

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Brahms' second string sextet

Continuing with my little obsession of the last couple of years: Brahms! Some of his works, are of a more immediate appeal, I think, those where his romanticism is less restrained and perhaps more youthful. His first piano concerto, his Tragic overture, his first symphony or his first sextet are maybe examples of this. They tend to be some of his more popular works, possibly. Then some of others are more elusive at first contact, and they are slow-growers. At least for me his second string sextet is/was one of those.

Ah, but what wonderful music! Take just his first movement. The first theme is almost strange in its understated and almost hidden appeal, with a quirky accompaniment (is that tremolos?) that will gain a structural importance later on in the development.  Then in wonderful contrast the sweeping second theme in the cello (one of his great melodies, and a very Brahmsian one) brings back his fully romantic and inhibited heart.

The whole movement is wonderful from beginning to end, in one of those musics where you feel each note is just right and none can be spared.

I’m usually not bothered about repeats, and in general I prefer not to have them. But three works by Brahms I feel they greatly enhance the music, and are needed structurally. The first movement of his third symphony, his second string quintet and this, his second string sextet.

The version I know and I cherish is the Raphael Ensemble. They play it beautifully, but I’m sure there will be other notable recordings. Any pointers welcome.

Do other people know and love this piece?

As it happens, this is one of

As it happens, this is one of the few Brahms pieces I really do like. I suppose that must mean it is somewhat different in character to much of the major Brahms stuff.......Quite Schubertian in some respects. Anyway, that first movement in particular is really wonderful. The mysterious opening never loses its magic for me.

I too prefer the Raphael ensemble. I have several versions floating about (Nash ensemble and I think I have a period performance somewhere......), but I haven't found any that really comes close to them. I like them in just about everything they have done. As with many Hyperion ensembles, they seem to play with the kind of restraint I evidently need to fully respond to a work.

That’s interesting Jane. I

That’s interesting Jane. I know your “difficulties” with Brahms, so I had sort of assumed that this wouldn’t be one of Brahms’ few works you like. It shows how there isn’t hard rules. For instance, his string quartets have a bit of a reputation of being among his driest and hardest works. They are wonderful music, just as good as anything else he wrote, although it is true that it was his last chamber works I got to love. Now, my girlfriend is alien to Classical Music, but I played for her his second string quartet at the same time as Beethoven’s first Razumovsky quartet (one of my very favourite Beethoven’s works). She loved both, but very specially Brahm’s, from the first hearing. It was an immediate hit. Not only that, but she recognized the “Brahmsianess” of the music, and ever since she’s been able to mainly recognize as Brahms’ other new music I’ve played for her.  Took me years!

Yes, this first movement of the sextet is just wonderful. And totally agreed about the Raphael. The reason why I’ve not bothered to look for other recordings before is that I’ve never felt the need for it, they just do it so right.

I’ve had more exposure to many different versions of the first one, including the Raphael, Nash, Casals, Menuhin, etc, maybe because it was the first one I knew, but more likely because all the recordings are pretty good,but none left me fully satisfied. For instance the Raphael sound a little bit too understated in the arresting first theme in the cellos, etc.

Forgot to add: on the

Forgot to add: on the contrary, the music is fully Brahmsian, but I suspect that it is that “not too much on your face” quality of it, that did it for you, as a good Mozart and Haydn lover. I certainly think there is something very classic (and classy) about it, it all just sounds in place.

Brahms' Second String Sextet.

Yes, Camaron, both Brahms' String Sextets are of prime importance and I appreciate them accordingly. Although the First is a more creative and impressive work, the Second, in the more comfortable G major tonality, gives a pleasant and most beautiful sense of the Brahmsian austere richness of musical expression and inventiveness.

Of course, there is no note to spare, every movement is right for the purpose it is to serve and, musically, Brahms demonstrates both the youthful inventive and daring composer as well as what is going to follow in the mature years of his wisdom and reflection.

Beyond the First Movement's expansive and most eloquent form, I find the Scherzo as the actual progress vis a vis the First String Sextet: a masterful, well-elaborated movement of exciting rhythmic behaviour and meaningful musicality, moving from the tonal minor to major.

I also admire the superbly demanding writing of the Finale's perpetual movement, moving from exciting rhythmic figures to lyrical passages of extreme beauty and, of course, a final page of the most uplifitng music by Brahms.

As for recordings, Raphael is too restrained and refined for such rich and multi-faceted works as the two String Sextets are. There are quite a few good recordings of more passionate readings, such as the Lindsays (not the best recording, on the defunct ASV), the Talich (refine but also with enough power when needed, on La Dolce Volta), the Leipzig String Quartet (a rather austere but powerful recording, on MDG), the Alban Beg + Amadeus (on the already gone EMI), the Kolner String Sextet (a very interesting and fine reading, on Marc Aurel) and some more.

However, it is the unique Prazak Quartet with two memers of the excellent Zemlinsky Quartet that make the great difference, at least as I can clearly hear it in my equipment. It is an arresting, quite exciting, full of vigour and passion but at the same time refined enough performance, captured in the most impressive way, in SACD format. It was one of the last few original recordings of the then greatest Chamber Music label Praga Digitals (nowadays, they resort only to reissues of old recordings in SACD format).

Parla

Thus saith the Lord

parla wrote:

As for recordings, Raphael is too restrained and refined for such rich and multi-faceted works as the two String Sextets are.

Bleak, I admit

camaron wrote:

Now, my girlfriend is alien to Classical Music, but I played for her his second string quartet at the same time as Beethoven’s first Razumovsky quartet (one of my very favourite Beethoven’s works). She loved both......

Oh dear. Rule Number 1: never try and share your rapture with loved ones. It always backfires. I am guessing this is a newish relationship, so your girlfriend will happily sit through an hour of Brahms and say she liked it. She may even think she liked it. She may even think she has found a gateway to a new and more thrilling life. But give it another year or so and you'll find her banging on your bedroom door demanding you turn that awful sh1t down.......etc 

If you know Hemingway, it is like talking about the war: you don't do it. You have to live with your own experience and stay away from the temptations of sharing that with other people.  

I wonder where you gather

I wonder where you gather your conclusions from, Parla. The Raphael recording of the sextets enjoys a sort of mythic status, and deservedly so, they are wonderful by any standards. They are not too restrained at all, even if they are elegantly understated. Now, my personal taste for the first one requires a slightly more vigorous approach, but not with any less refinement. This is just my personal taste, no an actual reproach to their version, which is otherwise totally spot on.

 

Otherwise thanks for the other suggestions, they are useful.

 

The first sextet is not a more “creative and impressive work”, although it is possibly the most popular of the two, probably due to its greater directness and the famous Theme with Variations. The second one is generally recognised as the more impressive one, as you put it, due to this sort of perfect inevitability of its first movement. I love both.

 

Thinking of it, I wonder if much of the common appeal of these words is to do with the fact that they have no other references, like much of Brahms music. Just like his symphonies are a dialogue with Beethoven and beyond, with Bach, and so are his string quartets, etc. Clearly Brahms felt a sort of lightness and freeness the the string sextet that  gets lost in much of his oeuvre, which is much more self-aware.

 

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

janeeliotgardiner wrote:

 

 

Oh dear. Rule Number 1: never try and share your rapture with loved ones. It always backfires. I am guessing this is a newish relationship, so your girlfriend will happily sit through an hour of Brahms and say she liked it. She may even think she liked it. She may even think she has found a gateway to a new and more thrilling life. But give it another year or so and you'll find her banging on your bedroom door demanding you turn that awful sh1t down.......etc 

If you know Hemingway, it is like talking about the war: you don't do it. You have to live with your own experience and stay away from the temptations of sharing that with other people.  

Ha, ha, you are of course right, but it is about finding the right balanced, I guess (I hope!!!). Anything with recitatives is out, and so much of Bach is condemned before a hearing. Bruckner is out of the question, and so is shostakovich or any sort of machine-like twentieth century music. Beethoven is touch and go. But there is hope: Mozart and Chopin are in, for the most part and, to my full amazement, Brahms. She actually asks for him! Should I think she is up to something….?

Good luck.......You're gonna need it.

camaron wrote:

Mozart and Chopin are in, for the most part and, to my full amazement, Brahms. She actually asks for him! Should I think she is up to something….?

Well, this must be a new relationship indeed. Three months? Four?

Anyway, the main thing is to be extremely cautious. Choose your moments carefully and resist the temptation to rush into the lounge and demand she listen to this truly wonderful, life-changing piece of music.......And don't talk or explain too much, either. That's another pitfall: breat-heaving passion on our side looks like arid pedantry on theirs.

Above all, avoid anything that might seem like moral pressure to enjoy what is (to us) a higher, superior form of pleasure. That really will come back to bite you when the coals of passion eventually cool.........

I know what you mean: I once

I know what you mean: I once sat her through a full analysis of Brahms’ first piano trio. She did well, I mean, she didn’t complain. On hindsight her silence should have been more telling than my talking. I would be happy if the whole thing gets settled in her head as just “one of my things”. I’ll ask her...

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