WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne Chamber Players

Johannes Brahms String Quintets


THERE is something slightly mystical about the string quintet, with its extra layer of harmony added to the more familiar two violins, viola and cello quartet line up. For Luigi Boccherini the extra instrument was a cello, and he wrote more than a hundred pieces for that line-up. Franz Schubert followed that model on his one quintet. Mozart wrote half a dozen for a quintet with an extra viola, and that was the shape adopted by Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Bruckner, Frank Bridge – and Johannes Brahms. Characteristically, Brahms worried at the form over the whole course of his lifetime, destroying the attempt of his late 20s in his perfectionist way. The two he completed were written eight years apart and are performed here by an international group led by the concertmaster of the German broadcasting orchestra, Chinese violinist Ye Wu. They are by a composer at the height of his powers. The Opus 88 in F is in three movements and culminates in a technically immaculate example of serene pastoral counterpoint, while the Opus 111 in G major was announced by the composer as his final work, although clarinettist Richard Muhlfeld's virtuosity would make him rethink that decision. This recording is an eloquent statement of the finest Romantic chamber music.

Keith Bruce