BRAHMS, DOHNANYI String Quartets No 1
An interesting coupling, Brahms and Dohnányi being cut from similar bales of cloth, the younger composer’s First Quartet composed in 1899, just two years after his feted predecessor had died. An informative booklet-note draws viable parallels between the two composers; though beyond the first movement’s gorgeous opening theme, the second-movement Scherzo is more reminiscent of Mendelssohn than of Brahms, certainly as performed here by the Psophos Quartet. I would say that the connecting link between these two particular works centres around the Hungarian harmonic twists in Dohnányi’s finale and in Brahms’s Allegretto third movement.
The generous ebb and flow of the Psophos Quartet’s playing is at its most alluring in the Dohnányi’s first movement, where sudden bursts of energy alternate with music that does indeed recall Brahms at his most lyrical. I liked the urgency of the Psophos in Brahms’s opening Allegro, also the darkened curve to the line that leads to both the repeated exposition and the beginning of the development section, which is in itself very dramatically played. The Brahms’s ‘Romanze’ is a further highlight, these players’ pooled tone warm and yielding, though not at the expense of some distinctive individual voices.
As to comparisons, the Psophos Quartet stack up well against the Fine Arts Quartet (they play all three Dohnányi quartets) and are generally preferable to the drier-sounding Kodály Quartet (Hungaroton). Turning to the Brahms, aside from the various complete sets of all three quartets (the Melos Quartet are well worth searching out), Quatuor Ebène offer a very original reading coupled with the Piano Quintet but, again, the Psophos Quartet are up there among the best.