The coupling of these two Brahms chamber works is apt, not only for the strong emotional content and dramatic character of both, but also for the striking similarity of String Quartet No. 1’s main theme to that of the Piano Quintet’s scherzo. The Arcanto Quartett plays both pieces with an edge-of-the-seat tension that’s quite captivating. These are lithe and lean readings–a striking contrast to the Emerson Quartet’s darker, weightier versions (with Leon Fleischer) on Deutsche Grammophon. Quartet No. 1’s restless, passionate quality comes across strongly in this performance, enhanced by the players’ impeccable intonation and sterling musicianship.
Silke Avenhaus joins the ensemble for a gripping rendition of the Piano Quintet, which showcases her considerable pianistic flair and mastery of Brahms’ idiom. Avenhaus’ superbly balanced chords reveal the richness of the composer’s harmonic writing, while her virtuosity in the rapid passages matches that of the Arcanto musicians. The tempestuous first movement surges forward as if carried on a wave, while the Arcanto strings sing beautifully in the tender slow movement.
The recording naturally balances the musicians in a nicely reverberant acoustic, although it’s a bit bass-shy (especially compared to the more closely-miked DG production). But this won’t prevent anyone from enjoying this excellent disc. Highly recommended. [5/26/2009]