BRAHMS String Quartets Emerson String 4776458

This was a powerful, heroic performance on the largest scale, a musical juggernaut for which Fleisher provided the pulsing, life-affirming rhythmic underpinning.

The Emerson set competes with Hyperion's budget-priced reissue of the New Budapest Quartet's early-'90s Brahms . . . the Emerson is superior in precision, more generous in its phrasing and benefits from a cleaner recording. With Fleisher enjoying his Indian summer, the American team also produces more drama in the Piano Quintet. As a bonus, the booklet is blessed by rare photos of Brahms on holiday . . .

. . . the Emerson String Quartet still delivers a richness and precision of ensemble that marks it out as a legend in its own lifetime. In every one of the Brahms chamber works featured on this superb double disc . . . the ensemble is immaculately balanced, and the interpretations fired with maturity and authority . . . sensitivity is everywhere, a quality never absent from the three quartets. Indeed, the Emersons bring a delirious energy to the Op 67 quartet that should quash anyone¿s misheld opinion of Brahms¿s music as grey and cumbersome.

As always, the Emersons are technically extremely neat, the buttons polished, trousers creased. Yet they never stand aloof: there¿s fire and restless-ness in abundance, and intellectual fibre. Nor do they neglect the gentler, lyrical qualities in Brahms: the Romanze movement sings beautifully, as it should. The second quartet from Op 51 is a friendlier work, though the Emersons typically emphasise its energy -- tensile, tightly packed. The third quartet, Op 67, is equally satisfying . . . the New York recording is very supportive, ideally balanced, the acoustics welcoming.

. . . you¿re unlikely to find a better team of players.

Theirs is by any standards a fine reading, expertly played . . .

. . . beautifully disciplined piano playing.

Leon Fleisher acquits himself brilliantly on Brahms¿s towering Quintet. The String quartets that make up the rest of this double CD are magnificently rendered.

. . . his piano sounds like the voice of God speaking to Job . . . this is thrilling playing, and the Emerson String Quartet performs with all its mature wisdom and rich sound . . . There are few miracles these days; we should celebrate one when it happens.

Fleisher's pedigree in Brahms is outstanding and his return to the two-handed repertoire after almost 40 years of being unable to use his right hand has been extraordinary. Fleisher's playing is wonderfully authoritative -- life-enhancing on many levels.

The Emerson Quartet's big sound and vigorous temperament is perfectly suited to the composer's three string quartets, but the prize is pianist Fleisher, who joins them for the Piano Quintet Op. 34. Despite decades of health problems, he triumphs over his 1963 Juilliard Quartet recording, not just with his fingers but with his profound understanding of how much this music can mean.

Fleisher is a master, a wise old sage . . . The Quintet is soulful, with the Emerson scaling back to match Fleisher's vision of the work. But in the three quartets, a premiere recording for the Emerson of these works, the ensemble steps on the gas. The effect is beautiful Brahms with an emphasis on counterpoint and modernity, not Romantic tar. To be honest, these works are rarely cited as anyone's favorite string quartets. But you won't find more appealing reasons to listen to them, and to the evergreen Quintet, than this two-CD set that marks the 30th anniversary of the Emerson and the 20th anniversary of its recording for Deutsche Grammophon. One hopes for more CDs both from the Emerson . . . and from Fleisher joining them for chamber music . . .

Few string quartets are as . . . unerringly good . . . The key to the quartet¿s success seems to be an almost maniacal desire to keep moving both physically . . . and also interpretively. They champion both classical and contemporary repertoire, playing everthing from Beethoven and Mendelssohn to Shostakovich and Barber with uncompromising vigour. They take this freshness into the studio, where their performance reveals every phrase marking and shudder of the bow. All the Emerson hallmarks are on this CD: muscular yet precise playing, combined with easy virtuosity. There are moments of luminous beauty in playing . . . but there is no attempt to pretty up Brahms . . . What the Emerson String Quartet offers, rarely among even established quartets, is a musical openess to high drama without slop and sentiment. This is a disc to return to many times, and a fitting anniversary celebration from one of America¿s finest quartets.

The Emerson String Quartet here celebrate their 30th anniversary with a highly competitive collection of these works, beautifully recorded and expounded with great fire and complete command of their intricacies and subtleties, as well as their big moments. As a whole the performances are impressive for their warm, rich instrumental tone: close grasp of detail and especially for their vital rhythmic life, which is absolutely key to successful Brahms interpretation . . . Fleisher proves an ideal partner in the Quintet, a breathtakingly authoritative performance . . . I was especially impressed by the handling of the finale. Here, the yearning, crepuscular tension of the introduction give way to the relaxed robustness of the early stages of the Allegro only to develop into the full-scale "Sturm und Drang" of the hunted, harried coda -- every transition of mood and tempo is negotiated with utter naturalness and real conviction.

This was a reading of astonishing muscular virtuosity, of infinite variety underpinned by perfect pace. It summed up the qualities of all that had gone before: maturity, authority, assimilation . . . they were masterful, compelling performances.

This handsome set of Brahms's chamber music features the stunning Emerson Quartet . . . The Quintet is singingly, lyrically played, with Brahms's long melodies the focal point. It's a beautiful performance, with the Emerson seemingly listening to and following Fleisher. The Quartets are performed with lush tone, with the Op. 51, no. 2, sounding particularly intense, with each dynamic change pointedly underlined. Op. 51's second movement (Romanze) makes the listener wish Brahms had set a text to the music -- it is played with exquisite lyricism. The B-flat major Quartet is vibrant, with the final movement's variations, colored by the viola, so clearly played that one can hear the echoes of the Quartet's first movement. A fine pair of CDs.

These performanceS by America¿s outstanding string quartet are near-ideal examples of deep and classy musicianship, with no trace of American gloss. Fleisher excels, too, in the Piano Quintet . . .

America's most virtuosic chamber ensemble . . . their beautifully subtle blend of sounds reaps benefits all the way around. Leon Fleisher . . . makes an apt partner for this particularly elegant version of the quintet . . . The Emerson makes the formidable Brahms quartets positively endearing.

Playing with their trademark fire and rhythmic acumen, the Emersons give a wonderfully vital performance of the B flat Quartet. To the first movement's alfresco exuberance they add a touch of whooping, devil-may-care wildness, while the folksy theme of the finale has a delightful lolloping, rustic gait. If other groups have brought more Romantic warmth to the A minor, the Emersons are compelling in their powerful sweep. The finale, juxtaposing Hungarian dance and Viennese waltz, emerges as unusually fierce and cussed. The C minor Quartet is a work that can easily get clogged in its own rhetoric. Not here. In their highly strung, lucidly textured performance, the Emersons remind you that this is essentially a work of youthful passion and despair -- definitely pre-beard Brahms. For the Piano Quintet, the Emersons are joined by Leon Fleisher, happily recovered after decades when he was unable to use his right hand. From the tense, brooding opening to the finale's volcanic coda, they give a thrilling, commanding performance, rivalling Pollini and the Quartetto Italiano (Philips) and Richter and the Borodin Quartet in lyrical ardour and cumulative power, and surpassing them in revelatory clarity of detail.

. . . there is freshness to the playing alongside the experience that shows in the four players' inimitable exactness over rhythm and balance . . . for high technical quality they remain difficult to beat.

For an ensemble who have been together longer than most marriages, they still sound remarkably fresh, vigorous and pleased with life. Technical finesse has always been a given with this group, and as ever their playing has a sureness and ease that leaves most ensembles behind. Their reading of the ebullient Third Quartet is particularly fine, with the leader imbuing the ravishing second-movement melody with teasing little portamenti. And in the finale, lyricism is combined with an infectious élan. What comes across most strongly in these performances is the very different nature of each quartet. The urgency of the first belies its long gestation. Textures are kept crisp and even the densest passages never become clogged . . . [Piano Quintet]: Once again there is much to impress here, from the slow and sensitive piano introduction to the precision of the string playing in the third movement.

This is a special release in many ways . . . it partners what is arguably the preeminent string quartet ensemble on the world stage today with pianist Leon Fleisher . . . Everything about this new release . . . promises to make it legendary in its own time . . . the Emerson incises with such scalpel-like precision that every accent, every rest, and every staccato is heard without a drop of blood spilled between them . . . the Emerson's interpretive ability to tug at the heart-strings . . . to call forth the Furies in the many passages of doomsday drama . . . or to communicate the awful loneliness and heartache that come to the surface in so much of Brahms's music . . . the Emersons now supplant them as my top choice and recommendation . . . The Emerson, Leon Fleisher, and DG change all of that, and in so doing prove wrong my theory of impossibility. You will hear this passage as you've never heard it before, exactly as Brahms wrote it . . . Fleisher seems to have a special affinity for Brahms, and partnering him with the Emerson was an inspired decision. For sheer executant brilliance, interpretive insight, and fantastic recording, this set needs no aging to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

DG presents the foremost American string quartet currently active, joined in the Quintet by one of the great Brahms pianists going back 50 years or more, in his miraculous return following years of adversity; these, the Emerson Quartet's first recordings of these chamber masterpieces, are taut and energetic, but at the same time both uncannily accurate . . . and expressive. The performance of the Quintet is magisterial . . . this set is sure to become a classic.

. . . it makes my Want List because it offers the best presentations in my memory of the three string quartets . . . The result is crystal clear playing, with all of the inner-part writing discernable. The same can be said for the other two quartets . . . The Piano Quintet is well performed . . .

. . . you will find no argument here regarding the achievement of the Emersons in playing these pieces both with unparalleled accuracy and with a perfect blend of passion and expressiveness.


The Emersons bring intelligence and passion to Brahms's three Quartets. Leon Fleisher joins for a coruscating Piano Quintet.

Einen Mentor älterer Bauart haben auch die fantastischen Vier vom Emerson Quartet hinzugezogen, um ihr 30-jähriges Bestehen und ihr 20-jähriges Aufnahme-Jubiläum bei der Deutschen Grammophon zu feiern. Zunächst spielen sie auf ihrer neuesten Doppel-CD die drei Quartette von Brahms ein . . . mit aufgeraut lebendigem Duktus. Zum Klavierquintett gesellt sich dann der Doyen Leon Fleisher hinzu . . . als Gipfeltreffen der glamourösen Art geht es eben auch.

. . . diese Aufnahme . . . ist perfekt . . . Es ist keine Neuigkeit, dass es am Zusammenspiel der vier Emersons . . . nichts auszusetzen gibt: ein klarer, meist kerniger Ton, rhythmische Schärfe, eine wunderbare Balance der Stimmen, eine jederzeit ungetrübte Transparenz, nie ein impressionistischer Schleier, der um des Dekorativen willen über die Partituren gelegt würde.

Ein Schmankerl . . .

. . . diese Aufnahme. Sie ist perfekt . . . ein klarer, meist kerniger Ton, rhythmische Schärfe, eine wunderbare Balance der Stimmen, eine jederzeit ungetrübte Transparenz, nie ein impressionistischer Schleier, der um des Dekorativen willen über die Partituren gelegt würde . . . Dass die Emersons, vor allem in den langsamen Sätzen, sich nie der Gefühlsduselei hingeben, verraten schon die vergleichsweise zügigen Tempi.

Fleisher agiert sehr bestimmt, setzt Akzente dort, wo sie erforderlich sind, findet sich aber immer wieder, gleichsam integrativ, mit den anderen zusammen. Die Souveränität, mit der die Emersons die kompliziertesten thematischen Konstruktionen es ersten Satzes erhellend vortragen, ihre klangliche Präsenz und das geschmeidige Reagieren aufeinander bieten dem Pianisten ein ideales Forum, sich in dieses Quartett-"Gespräch" -- intelligenter Leute, wie Goethe sagte -- einzuschalten . . . auch in den drei Aufnahmen der Brahms-Quartette überzeugt die Ausgewogenheit aller Ausdruckselemente. Die häufigen Taktwechsel im ersten Satz des letzten Streichquartetts B-Dur op. 67 werden mit einer fast schwebenden Leichtigkeit vorgetragen, im Andante tritt das Liedhafte empfindsam hervor. Und im Allegretto demonstriert Dutton, was für ein brillanter Bratscher er ist: Ein kraftvoller, farbreicher Ton verbindet sich mit hoher Musikalität. Den abschließenden Variationensatz kann man sich thematisch kaum stringenter denken, dabei sehr gelöst gespielt. Im a-Moll-Quartett überzeugen die reichen Kontraste, die die Emerson-Musiker plastisch herausmodellieren. Im c-Moll-Quartett werden die knappen Konturen des Werkes mit einer atemversetzenden Konzentration nachgezogen. Man kann diese Brahms-Huldigung des Emerson-Quartetts, nicht zuletzt wegen der Mitwirkung Fleishers, durchaus als ein Ereignis feiern.

30 Jahre spielt das Emerson String Quartet schon zusammen -- und ist immer noch für Überraschungen gut. Seine Gesamtaufnahme der Brahmsquartette offenbart ganz individuelle Momente, wenn etwa Bratschist Lawrence Dutton seine zahlreichen Soli mit dunklem Ton akzentuiert oder das Ensemble in der Stretta des Finales aus op. 51 Nr. 2 jede Schwerkraft hinter sich lässt. Auch der Wechsel des Primarius sorgt für Abwechslung. Eugene Drucker zeichnet mit seinem genau umrissenen, scharfen Violinton präzise Linien, Philip Setzer dagegen setzt bei den beiden letzten Quartetten ganz auf warme Kantabilität. Und mit dem angenehm zurückhaltend agierenden Pianisten Leon Fleisher kommen beim Klavierquintett in f-Moll op. 34 noch weitere Farben hinzu.

Bestechend ist das ausgeglichene, körperhafte Spiel des Quartetts, das sich weder durch romantischen Überschwang noch durch die schiere Fülle an musikalischen Gedanken aus dem Lot bringen lässt. Trotz dem dichten Tonsatz gibt es so gut wie keine klanglichen Härten. Die vier Amerikaner zeigen, wie viel emotionale Wärme und lichte Farbigkeit in Brahms' Kammermusik steckt . . . Die Grundstimmung ist aufgeräumt und fast abgeklärt heiter . . . Ein weiteres Glanzlicht der Aufnahme ist das Zusammentreffen des Emerson-Quartetts mit . . . Leon Fleisher in Brahms' Klavierquintett in f-Moll. Statt der häufig anzutreffenden Übermacht des Klaviers bietet die Einspielung eine mustergültige Balance und ein in den Details fein ausgehörtes, partnerschaftliches Musizieren.

Toutes leurs qualités y font . . . merveille: clarté du discours, sonorité chatoyante, ensemble homogène, jeu polyphonique irréprochable, etc. Le lyrisme y est bien plus naturellement conduite, grâce à un premier violon et un violoncelle plus prégnants que dans les deux autres quatuors. Les quatre compères semblent enfin prendre plaisir à jouer Brahms, et nous en prenons enfin à les écouter . . . la force tellurique qui se dégage de l'ensemble est impressionnante . . .

. . . le discours a considérablement gagné en rondeur, en lyrisme, en liberté, en liberté, en matière. Des courbes plus généreuses et des sonorités plus timbrées lui confèrent une plénitude exceptionnelle. Chaque instrument a su garder sa propre identité, donnant au propos une profondeur à laquelle seuls les plus grands peuvent prétendre. Au-delà, la fusion des timbres et des vibratos, la verticalité exemplaire des archets et la palette des couleurs atteignent un suprême niveau d'excellence. La verve des attaques (finale de l'Opus 51 no 1, Vivace de l'Opus 67), la dynamique des nuances ("Quasi minuetto" de l'Opus 51 no 2) tout comme la souplesse avec laquelle les Emerson habitent les tempos ne méritent que des éloges. Ils rendent ce mélange de tendresse et de force propre à la musique de Brahms avec une élégance infinie. Chacun de leurs élans vous entraîne irrésistiblement tant il est conduit avec cohérence (finale de l'Opus 51 no2), tandis que les moments de rêve atteignent ici une sensualité vocale (Andante de l'Opus 67).

. . . un approccio nuovo e fresco alla musica da camera di Brahms.