BRAHMS; DVOŘÁK String Quartets
Brahms, like Mozart, seems to have been happier with quintets than with quartets. It’s no surprise that chamber groups want to record the second of his two string quintets: can there be many more thrilling openings to a piece of chamber music? The Oehms disc stems from a week-long project under the aegis of the Villa Musica Foundation in Engers, near Koblenz, at which young musicians partake in intensive rehearsals with established players, culminating in concerts and, as in this case, recordings.
The contrast with the Quatuor Voce, an ensemble founded a decade ago, is instructive. While Boris Garlitsky and his young players present a well-played reading, the Voce and guest viola player Lise Berthaud offer one that has been refined through repeated performance. They know the architecture of the music from the inside, and are aware of those places where a little time can be given to a phrase, where the music can be allowed to breathe a bit more. Their opening movement is a full half a minute longer than Garlitsky’s but is no less taut and compelling. Listen to the arrival of the second subject, where the tempo relaxes subtly and the commentary in the violins is lit in half-lights, while Garlitsky and Jaha Lee play it as if it is the major line at that point. Both valid perspectives, to be sure, but the greater shading of the Voce’s performance draws one in all the more.
The other movements are all a notch speedier on the Voce’s disc, and their grasp of the knotty Intermezzo is the more secure – as is, it must be said, their intonation. It’s a more rounded, complete performance, while the outsize characters among Garlitsky’s ensemble would appear to be the veteran leader himself and the German cellist Philip Graham, who in many places appears to be leading, as it were, from the bottom.
Both discs precede the Brahms with a late quintet for the same combination (doubled viola, rather than doubled cello à la Schubert). Garlitsky et al give a suitably majestic and vivacious reading of Dvořák’s 1893 American Quintet, fusing the composer’s Slavic and American styles, while the Voce’s choice is a spacious, airy Mozart C major – the 1787 work that supposedly so inspired Schubert. Both discs offer an hour of pleasurable music-making, although the Voce Quartet and Lise Berthaud shade it in the Brahms.