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Brahms' Second String Quintet
The Budapest Quartet's 1932 classic, remastered for finest sound quality
"I've been tormenting myself for a long time with all kinds of things, a symphony, chamber music and other stuff, and nothing will come of it. Above all I was always used to everything being clear to me. It seems to me that it's not going the way it used to. I'm just not going to do any more. My whole life I've been a hard worker; now for once I'm going to be good and lazy!"
These words, spoken by Brahms in the summer of 1890 to his friend Eusebius Mandyczewski, indicated the composer's plan that his String Quintet in G major would be his final work. Despite its difficult opening, where somehow the cello has to make itself heard from beneath the rest of the players' forte semiquavers, caused much consternation amongst the members of the Rosé String Quartet who began rehearsing it for the first time in November 1890 with Brahms in Vienna ("the cello...must scrape mercilessly to be heard" warned cellist Elisabet von Herzogeberg). Despite these warnings, and those of Brahms' great friend and ally Joachim, the composer let it stand. The première in Vienna on November 11th, 1890, was a fabulous success.
But the Quintet was not to be Brahms' final work - the experience of its composition and the sensational reaction to its appearance, led the composer to reconsider. telling a friend:
"Recently I started variuos things, symphonies and so on, but nothing would come out right. Then I thought: I'm really too old, and resolved energetically to write no more. I considered that all my life I have been sufficiently industrious and had achieved enough; here I had before me a carefree old age and could enjoy it in peace. And that made me so happy, so contented, so delighted - that all at once the writing began to go."
This 1932 recording shows little to belie its age. Perhaps the very finest detail is to an extent sacrificed for a more overall rounded sound, but it really is a treat for the ears. Hearing this performance, made just 42 years after the work's première, one senses that it would have made a perfect end to Brahms' career. But knowing what it inspired in him, at least partly, to go on to produce, one can also be glad that it was not the end of his music.
BRAHMS String Quintet No 2 in G, Op 111
Recorded on 15, 17 November 1932, Beethovensaal, Berlin
All 1st takes except sides 3 & 5, take 2.
Issued as HMV DB.1866-8 Matrix Numbers:32-3497/3501, 32-3512
Total Duration: 22:57
The Budapest Quartet:
Josef Roismann, violin
Alexander Schneider, violin
Boris Kroyt, viola
Mischa Schneider, cello
Hans Mahlke, viola