The Uppsala Chamber Soloists
make one of Swedenâ€™s most eminent string ensembles, delving into Baroque, Viennese Classical, Romantic or new music, always with the same total control and stylistic sense. Just as the name implies, they are both chamber musicians and soloists.
Now they go out - on the Daphne label - for Johannes Bramsâ€™
No 1 in F Major op 88 and No 2 in G Major op. 111
String Quintet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 88
1 Allegro non troppoma con brio
2 Grave ed appassionatoâ€“ Allegretto vivaceâ€“ Presto
3 Allegro energicoâ€“ Presto
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111
4 Allegro non troppoma con brio
6 Un poco allegretto
7 Vivace ma non troppopresto â€“ Animato
The highlight of this disc is the G major Quintet Op. 111, for the simple fact that it is one of my favorite chamber works. Having several versions, I did a head-to-head to compare the different performances in my collection. The opening of the Quintet is breathtaking in its exuberance. Joachim, when he first saw the score, saw the opening as too orchestral, with the tremolos of the upper strings threatening to drown out the wonderful soaring melody of the solo cello. Brahms was determined that the opening should stand as it is, knowing the effect he wanted to achieve. The Berlin Philharmonic players on Philips (446172) nearly drown out the poor cellist. Their overall performance seems to me uninspiring. The Melos Quartet with GĂ©rard CaussĂ© (viola) on Harmonia Mundi (901349) perform only the G major Quintet. As a whole the sound throughout is slightly congested and lacks the clarity accorded to the Uppsala players. The Amadeus (DG 474358) inexplicably omit the first movement exposition repeat which Brahms specifies. The Raphael Ensemble (Hyperion CDH 55369) have provided the ideal recording and one which I have returned to many times. I did not think they could be bettered; that is until now. The Uppsala players definitely outshine them and have dislodged them from their pedestal. The sound here is brighter and more immediate. This allows the sometimes thick instrumental textures to emerge with great clarity and definition. Everything seems just right. Tempi, dynamics and phrasing are well judged. Intonation and ensemble marks the performances out with distinction.
The acoustic of the Kulturhuset i Ytterjarna is warm and sympathetic. Booklet notes are comprehensive in English, German and Swedish. Perhaps the String Quartets and Sextets in the future - who knows?
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Their tone as an ensemble leans towards the lean side, which I tend to prefer in Brahms anyway. His late-Romantic style tends towards undue sentimentality and mushiness when played by musicians with too warm or gooey a sound. Here, however, the Uppsala Soloists are like Mama Bear: their approach is â€śjust right,â€ť employing the proper amount and style of portamento to give the music flow and character without making it sound too syrupy. Their attacks are crisp but never brusque, and they always seem to know exactly how to play each movement so that the musical progression makes sense but does not override a feeling of discovery at each turn of phrase. They add, alternately, lilt, lyricism and drama to this music. In a word, they are splendid, and they bring a fine â€śedgeâ€ť to this music that propels it when needed.
For those not familiar with these string quintets, they are among Brahmsâ€™ most original and restless works. Though ostensibly set in four-movement form, there are constant tempo and mood shifts within each movement, keeping one on the edge of your seat as you listen. All of it is tonal, the rhythms are not particularly difficult, and yet there is something really striking about each of these eight movements. The music does not develop in typical Brahmsian style, but rather flits from section to section and mood to mood, catching the listener up in its whirlwind of sound. In short, they are captivating and exciting pieces.
I cannot praise this disc highly enough. This is, surely, one of the surprises (so far) of 2013. Lynn RenĂ© Bayley Fanfare