BRAHMS String Sextets
It’s been some years since we’ve had a disc of Brahms’s sextets as thoroughly satisfying as this one, recorded live at the 2016 Aix-en-Provence Easter Festival. The Capuçon brothers and their colleagues may be an ad hoc group but they play with the unanimity and blended tone of a veteran ensemble. Even in the most intricate passages, the six parts dovetail seamlessly, not only in terms of the smoothness of execution but in consistency of phrasing as well. Best of all, the musicians find a near-ideal balance of urgency and patience – the hallmark of a great Brahms interpretation.
The opening movement of the B flat First Sextet is appropriately relaxed yet there is always an underlying sense of propulsion, so that one feels that inexorable and inevitable pull from one phrase to the next. And there’s so much character to the playing, too. Listen, for instance, to the development section, beginning around 7'30", and how naturally it evolves from the spontaneously conversational to the passionately argumentative (at 8'20"). The slow movement is purposeful yet intensely expressive within the music’s structural and rhythmic constraints that underscore its kinship with a Baroque chaconne. Perhaps the Scherzo could have a little more verve – it’s marked Allegro molto, after all – but any misgivings are swept away by the joyful and generous lyricism of the finale.
There’s just as much to marvel at in the ensemble’s performance of the G major Second Sextet, beginning straight away with the first violin’s leaping, yearning phrases, shaped so tenderly by Renaud Capuçon. The gleaming melancholy of the Scherzo is mesmerising though ever so slightly overlit, and there’s also an edginess to the sound of the strings at the climax of the otherwise sublimely eloquent Adagio. These slight sonic imperfections are likely the product of close miking to mitigate any audience noise – though, in fact, the audience is raptly silent except for their applause, included (alas) at the end of each work. Here again, such cavils are easily cast aside. These are interpretations to savour.