BRAHMS: String Sextets Nos. 1 and 2 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Stuttgart Soloists) (Naxos: 8.550436)
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StringSextet No.1 in B Flat Major, Op. 18
StringSextet No.2 in G Major, Op. 36
Itwas not until 1863 that Brahms moved to Vienna, the city where Haydn, Mozart and Beethovenhad settled and where Schubert had been born. He was born in 1833 in Hamburg, son of adouble bass player, who had married a woman several years his senior. As a child JohannesBrahms showed particular promise and through the generosity of his teachers was able todevelop his gifts as a composer and as a pianist to a point where he made a strongimpression on the impressionable Schumann, whom he visited in 1853, through the agency ofthe young violinist Joseph Joachim, who had proved less successful in his introduction ofBrahms to Liszt in Weimar. As he developed, Brahms grew to represent the school of pure orabstract music as opposed to the new music of Liszt and Wagner, who saw the future in verydifferent and less traditional terms.
Schumann'sfinal break-down and death in 1856 involved Brahms in an even closer connection with ClaraSchumann, one of the leading pianists of the day. While of obvious practical assistance toher during the period of her husband's illness and after his death, he maintained amutually protective relationship with her until her death in 1896. His earlier careerinvolved him in seasonal employment at the small court of Detmold and in work in Hamburg,where he always hoped for proper recognition, accorded him only when it was too late.
Vienna, however, proved much more welcoming and there were many there who, like Schumann,saw in him a successor to Beethoven, a judgement that infuriated Wagner, who regardedhimself as the only proper heir.
Thefirst of the two String Sextets of Brahms, scored for two violins, two violas and twocellos, was completed in 1860, soon after his departure from Detmold for Hamburg. It wasamong the first group of works to be published by Simrock and is contemporary with the twoserenades that he had written for Detmold. The use of a sextet rather than the stricterstring quartet allowed the composer greater freedom, in particular in his handling of thefirst cello, freed, when occasion demanded, from playing a bass part and allowed the firsttheme of the opening movement. The slow movement is a series of variations, a form ofwhich Brahms was to show particular mastery. The D minor theme is played first by thelower instruments, providing that sonority that characterizes much of the composer's work.
Variations succeed each other with notes of increasing rapidity. There is a stronglyexpressive major fourth variation, subtle use of the two violas in the fifth and a sixththat summarises the movement. The energetic Scherzo and its dance-like Trio leads to and afinal Rondo that suggests the spirit of Schubert and Vienna.
Brahmswrote the greater part of his second String Sextet during the summer of 1864, when hevisited Clara Schumann and her family at Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden, himself staying inthe house of Anton Rubinstein and mixing in a company of the greatest distinction. Thework was completed the following May. It is in the key of G major, to which shiftingtonalities add some ambiguity in the first movement, which has a second subject ofparticular beauty. The second movement is a gentle Scherzo, derived in part from a dancemovement for piano written some ten years earlier, contrasted with a Trio of almostBohemian vigour. The slow movement is again a set of variations, once more using a themeof Baroque character, this time in the relative minor key, E minor. The five variationslead to a coda in E major and are succeeded by a final movement, a form of rondo thatallows the intervening repetition of an opening motto theme between the sections of atripartite, sonata-form movement. If the first of the two sextets looks back to Detmoldand the serenades, the second looks forward to the symphonies that Schumann had seemed todetect when Brahms first played to him.
AlbertBoesen / Horst Neumann, Violins
EnriqueSantiago / Michael Meyer-Rejnhard, Violas
RudolfGleissner / Gottfried Hahn, Cellos
TheStuttgart Soloists has won wide praise for their work in the quintets of Mozart,Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner and in the quintets and sextets of Brahms, Dvorak andSchoenberg. The Sextet has given performances in Germany and abroad, throughout Europe, inAfrica and in Asia. Their earlier recordings, starting with an issue of the Schubert Cmajor Quintet in 1978, have won high critical acclaim.