Brahms Piano Quartets CD
Robert Matthew-Walker, Musical Opinion Quarterly, July – Sept 2019 *****
This new set is much more than passing interest and in many ways goes to the top of the recommended list – not least for the intriguing and very successful decision to record these three masterpieces using three different pianos fo the period.
But that, at heart, is a superficial view: these performances are manifestly born of deep acquaintance with the music – in no way can they be regarded as mere “play-throughs” of the “rehearse-record” approach of less committed artists: time and again one senses the depth of understanding of these players, caught in recordings of quality and depth of balance, It is a life-enhancing pleasure to renew acquaintance with these imperishable masterpieces in this way, and one must give this issue the highest recommendation.
BBC Radio 3 – Record Review (March 2019), Andrew McGregor
This weeks best new best releases… a recording of Brahms’ three piano quartets with a difference… They’ve made every effort they can to recapture as much of the sound Brahms would have had in his ears. Once you’ve dialled in the different balance between the instruments and the individual sounds of the three period pianos you realise you are also listening to three excellent performances of the Brahms’ quartets. I’ve enjoyed them a great deal..
Classical Source, Tully Potter *****
…performances unlike any others of Brahms’s Piano Quartets that have come my way… They feature piano-playing of the highest class, on interesting instruments, and string-playing that does justice to the music. They will happily sit on your shelves as alternatives to your favourite high-powered, modern-instrument versions.”
Tully Potter, The Strad
The playing is selflessly beautiful…everything seems to be just right.
Seen & Heard, MusicWeb International
Kings Place, London, Feb 15 2015
Schumann– Piano Quartet in E flat, Op. 47
Payne – Piano Quartet (World Première)
Brahms – Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op. 26
Ensembles dedicated to mastering the repertoire for piano quartet are rare nowadays, but the wealth of excellent works by many of the major composers, not least Schumann and Brahms, is testament to the piano quartet’s historic popularity. The Primrose Piano Quartet enjoys an enviable reputation, not just as a standard bearer for the mainstream repertoire for piano quartet, but also for a string of recordings of lesser-known works, and a vigorous commitment to commissioning new music. Their performance at Kings Place this evening was a glowing testimony to this well-deserved reputation, in an exhibition of mature artistry and sophisticated music making. The Primrose Quartet’s joyous performance of Schumann’s popular Piano Quartet Op.47 was characterised by an unerring unanimity of musical purpose, and the impeccable balance between the instruments allowed the music to express itself freely. The andante cantabile third movement, the emotional heart of the piece, and also one of the most profound and affectionate melodies in all chamber music, was particularly beautifully performed. Andrew Fuller’s richly expressive and idiomatic cello solo elicited playing of extraordinary tenderness from the rest of the ensemble, with Susanne Stanzeleit’s delicate phrasing particularly enchanting. Anthony Payne (b. 1936) has achieved worldwide recognition for his completion of Elgar’s Third Symphony, and this evening his own Piano Quartet received its world première performance. Payne describes his music as ‘post-tonal’ but it never loses touch with the essence of music, as the expression of human life in sound. His piano quartet, which is in one continuous and constantly metamorphosing movement, was composed with the Primrose Piano Quartet’s unique qualities in mind. It is neither programmatic, nor does it benefit from any literary or other inspirations, but is, in his own words, “music, pure and simple.” The goal he set for his composition, was that “by the time we get to the final pages, I like to think that we’ve made it to another world, which is perhaps way in the future, or even in the past.” His composition benefitted from a committed performance, with each instrument enjoying the opportunity to contribute something personal to the proceedings, before combining with the rest of the ensemble, as their collective journey gained momentum. John Thwaites is a powerful and poetic pianist, and it was especially in the Brahms where he deployed his resources to such devastating effect. The Primrose Piano Quartet’s performance of Brahms’ colossal Second Piano Quartet was fantastic in every respect: they captured the spirit of each movement, but with due consideration for the overall architecture; tempo relationships were perfectly judged; their concept of sound was convincingly Brahmsian – and so I could go on. This was, in short, music making at its most engaging, and the enthusiastic and protracted applause created the distinct impression that the audience was, like me, somewhat reluctant to leave the auditorium.
The Times, Geoff Brown
Premiere Cheltenham International Festival, 13th July 2008
Piano Quartet, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies(b.1934).
Technically, nothing in this 20- minute memorial to the artist and photographer Gunnie Moberg, an Orkney friend, takes you by surprise. Through brief, interlinked character pieces, instruments creep, chew or scud through knotty remnants of some secret theme. One section is rigorously solemn,another erupts with rhetorical gestures. A Faroe Island tune is hinted at; but the puzzle’s key proves to be, as so often with Davies, plainsong, with the melody cradled in tonality’s arms before the piece fades into sadness and a question mark. Old tricks,then; but the feelings generated stay fresh. When tonal harmony arrives the effect is overwhelming: in a perplexing world we’ve finally reached home comforts, if only briefly. The Primrose musicians put their best fingers forward in this passionate, urgent performance.
“Recording of the Month” from Rob Barnett, Music Web. June 2004
“…there is cracking coordination from all the players. This is a really spirited reading with anyone attending the sessions surely having had to bite their lips at the end to avoid a shouted and thundered applause.”
Music Web International, John France. October 2006
This CD represents an excellent conspectus of British Piano Quartets – at least from the first half of the 20th Century. The sound quality of the disc is second to none and the playing is all one could imagine from a group that has named itself after William Primrose (1904- 1982) who was one of the finest violists of the 20th century. The Primrose Quartet was founded in 2004 by four well known chamber musicians. Amongst other things they have and are championing ‘under- represented’- British composers. Let us hope that there will be many more British chamber works from Meridian – if they want any ideas – I have quite a few suggestions up my sleeve!
Once again this disc points up the yawning gulf that separates most pre- Great War works from those written after the conflict. Sunnily romantic Brahmsian heroics of various stamps dominate the years from 1895 to 1914 (with some carry- over). There was a tendency after 1918 for works to find and fasten on to frivolity, or severity or brutality.
Bax’s 1922 Piano Quartet illustrates the psychological gear- change. It is bitter, terse, violent and has no time for the luxury of expansive romantics. Bax had found the same track as Bartók who by coincidence was also championed by the pianist Harriet Cohen. The quartet may be in one movement but it is no Cobbett- style Phantasy. The same work also exists in a version for piano and orchestra under the title Saga- Fragment. This has been recorded by Margaret Fingerhut on Chandos.
The Dunhill Piano Quartet is from 1903 and speaks in smooth and gracious numbers. The language is broadly Brahmsian and will occasion no listener any difficulty in coming to appreciation. The regal writing in the allegro moderato recalls the muscular optimism of the Brahms second piano concerto but flecked with episodes of self- doubt.
However the disc opens with Hurlstone’s Piano Quartet. The allegro moderato is tumultuously put across by the Primrose. You can ‘hear’ the flames licking at the heels in the masterful peroration to the movement. Then comes the committed writing and playing of the andante cantabile. This is touchingly Brahmsian material – a trembling Viennese sunset of a piece. The red- blooded Vivace ma non troppo is unflinchingly played and recording. This is no- holds- barred romantic writing with a Dvorákian roll at 1:50 melded with British folksong. The finale starts lento non troppo and moves into an allegro giocoso; an approximately similar tempo and mood as for the Dunhill. The finale positively shouts élan and there is cracking coordination from all the players. This is a really spirited reading with the engineers and any one else attending the sessions surely having had to bite their lips at the end to avoid a shouted and thundered applause. The music is very exciting and sanguine recalling the manly heroics of Dvorak’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. An English flavouring also enters with a folksy feeling looking forward to Moeran’s Bank Holiday and Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey.
The Quilter is a brief genre piece with an Irish accent and a zingharese flavour. Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances convey some of the same enraptured and volatile dancing spirit.
The Independent. 26 April 2005, The Classical Collection, Rob Cowan on this week’s CD releases,
A fine performance by The Primrose Piano Quartet. All this music is well crafted and very well played: the perfect programme to unwind to.
Tower Records Website
This is one of the most enterprising, British chamber music releases to appear this year. The three piano quartets included here are outstanding works that deserve a much wider audience. The Thomas Dunhill and William Hurlstone are solidly constructed, very engaging, late romantic, mini- masterpieces in the best, Central European tradition. Their slow movements are extraordinarily beautiful, and both pieces will come as welcome discoveries. It’s a pity Hurlstone died at thirty just two years after writing his! The Arnold Bax is the most progressive and a driven work that undoubtedly reflects the horrors of the First World War. Roger Quilter’s sextet has all the melodic charm of his songs, but with a Magyar bent. The performances are committed and the sound is good. If you like this disc, try some of York Bowen’s chamber music.
Philip R Buttal, Great Hall, Dartington. September 2005
It’s always essential to get any series off to a flying start, so when Dartington ARTS decided to book the Primrose Piano Quartet for its new Music Programme, they must have known that this simply superb ensemble would both prove perfect for the task, and not disappoint the packed audience.
Opening with Frank Bridge’s richly eloquent Phantasy, the players honed a performance of real warmth and beauty, but which never became merely sentimental. Schubert’s delightful String Trio in B flat was an astute choice, making fewer emotional demands on the listener and, with the piano absent, giving the beautifully- crafted and well- balanced string tone of Susanne Stanzeleit (violin), Susie Mészáros (viola) and Bernard Gregor- Smith (cello), a welcome opportunity to shine.
Pianist, John Thwaites, returned to the ensemble for a glorious performance of Herbert Howells’s Piano Quartet in A minor, undoubtedly the evening’s highlight. John took full advantage of the magnificent tone of the Steinway full concert- grand, though mindful, throughout, to preserve the vital yet delicate balance with the strings, even in the most impassioned moments of the greatest virtuosity.
An equally commanding performance of Brahms’s C minor Piano Quartet concluded arguably one of the finest recitals of pure chamber music heard for a long time, to which the superb setting and acoustic also made a significant contribution to the evening’s unmitigated success.
John Upson, Penrith Times. October 2005
Inspired music played with complete control, imagination, and deep insight, well judged balance and ensemble – a truly satisfying performance, unfolding each phrase with sonorous tone and restrained phrasing to build an enchanting castle in the air.
Lunchtime concert, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, Howard Thomas
SHOWING no fear in a very warm hall, the Primrose Piano Quartet (Susanne Stanzeleit – violin, Susie Meszaros – viola, Bernard Gregor- Smith – cello & John Thwaites – piano) took the bull by the horns and played as hefty a programme as one could imagine on another of the summer’s hottest days so far.
We hear all too little of Arnold Bax (1883- 1953), once Master of the King’s Music, other than his fabulous Tintagel and it’s a shame, for every tone something comes along, there must be many who say ‘Ah yes, I must listen out for more of him!’ Opportunities are too infrequent and he’s pushed aside yet again,
His rhapsodic Piano Quartet in One Movement is particularly interesting. Bax lived in Ireland for some time (and died in Cork) and this Quartet reflects the Ireland of The Gentle Gunman rather than that of Finian’s Rainbow. It’s a serious work therefore, but is totally accessible.
In Brahms’s Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor, the playing was outstandingly dramatically tough, colourful and strongly melodic. This was an orchestrally- conceived work in all but the instrumentation and the Quartet gave it a sensitive reading, perhaps (and certainly understandably today) never quite achieving the pianissimos where required.
It’s good that where the brave quartet has pre¬sented a pair of relatively seldom- heard works, they have also a CD (Meridian) due in the shops soon with worthwhile rarities by Roger Quilter, William Hurlstone and the interesting but neglected Thomas Dunhill.
Hilary Finch, The Times. 2nd June 2006
The zeal of the PPQ is never in doubt.
Reviews for British Piano Quartets, Vol 2 (works by Bridge, Howells, Alwyn, Scott), Meridian CDE 84547
Julian Haylock, Classic FM Magazine. September 2006 – Five Stars
English Music in general is notoriously difficult to bring off convincingly, particularly that of the generation of composers who followed in the wake of the Elgar and Vaughan Williams renaissance. Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t tend to travel particularly well. Yet listening to the gloriously natural and unforced interpretative approach of the Primrose Quartet you’d think that such problems simply didn’t exist. With the exception of the William Alwyn Rhapsody, all if this music wears its Brahmsian heart on its sleeve at times, and yet there is something profoundly English about each one, which the Primrose players bring out to heart- warming effect. There are no masterpieces here, but when played like this I can’t imagine anyone caring.
Tim Homfray, The Strad. September 2006
Wigmore Hall concert to commemorate William Hurlstone’s centenary, May 2006
Guillaume Lekeu’s incomplete 1894 Piano Quartet is a fervent piece, a late- Romantic hurly- burly full of grandiloquent gesture. When he reins in his turbulent piano writing the music can be magical, with passages of lyrical, discursive string writing. The Prirmose Piano Quartet caught the sweep of the music and also, where it counted, its introspection. Over it all hovered the mighty figure of Brahms, whose influence is also clear in William Hurlstone’s Quartet in E minor op.43.
Hurlstone’s tonal and textural palette is wider than Lekeu’s: there are moments in the second movement of gentle, flexible writing, and the third- movement Vivace has real and memorable character. The last movement comes as a surprise, a jolly English romp in which Brahms seems to give way to Percy Grainger.
It seemed a bit mean after all this Brahmsian music to programme the real thing. But Brahms does himself best, and so did the Primrose Piano Quartet, producing a reading of the C minor Quartet op.60 of infinite variety.
They were joined at the end by violinist Chihiro Ono and bassist Leon Bosch for a spirited rendition of Roger Quilter’s Gipsy Life, although these gypsies sounded as if they lived in an Edwardian drawing room rather than a caravan.
David Denton, The Strad. September 2006
This is a most attractive programme, gathering together four little- known 20th- century British piano quartets. The performances place them in direct line from Elgar and bypass the German and French influences that fashioned the young Frank Bridge and Cyril Scott.
All were written within conventional tonality, with William Alwyn’s Rhapsody of 1950 the most modern in outlook – the ounding rhythm of its opening takes a fleeting look at music of the time.
The serious output of the Liverpool- born Cyril Scott had rather fallen into oblivion, side- tracked by his reputation as a composer of lightweight keyboard cameos, until a recent renaissance of interest in his music on disc. He was 21 when he composed the highly charged piano quartet in 1900, and here its outgoing ardour has been fully realised.
Born in 1879, the same year as Scott, Frank Bridge took much longer to find critical acclaim, though the prizewinning Phantasy Piano Quartet of 1910 helped to establish his name. Six years later came the Piano Quartet by Herbert Howells, its superbly scored and boisterous atmosphere just predating those dark days that ended his life in a mental hospital.
The Primrose Piano Quartet was founded in 2004 with musicians from the Lindsays and from the Chilingirian and Edinburgh quartets. Their overall quality is warm, generous and deeply committed to this repertory. Well worth adding this vibrant music to your collection.