The Chicago Tribune reviews the Symphony Center matinée featuring the complete Brahms PIano Quartets

“You would guess that any summit meeting of international string virtuosos headed up by the sterling pianist Leif Ove Andsnes would bring out the best in all participants and the music, and you would be right. To hear solo artists of the caliber of Andsnes, violist Tabea Zimmermann and cellist Clemens Hagen pooling talents for the three piano quartets of Johannes Brahms, as they did Sunday at Orchestra Hall, must be considered a rare luxury. Luxurious, too, to have James Ehnes available at short notice to step in for the originally announced violinist, Christian Tetzlaff, who withdrew from the quartet’s U.S. performances to remain in Europe in preparation for the anticipated early delivery of his child.

Yet there was no absolute guarantee going into this Brahms marathon — it lasted more than 2 ½ hours, including one intermission and one pause — that players so formidable as soloists would be equally formidable as an ensemble. It took no more than the natural flow of warmly blended lyricism Andsnes and his colleagues achieved in the opening pages of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor (Opus 25) to banish such worries. Their ardently romantic reading took much of its rhythmic spine and clarity of texture from the pianist’s playing, with its directness and lack of pretension. Each of the excellent string players contributed greatly to the heartfelt dialogues that drive this masterpiece, subsuming his and her voice to a cohesive melding of impulse. The singleminded strength and drive they bought to the Hungarian rondo made its charms impossible to resist..

The same caring response to the shape and significance of every phrase marked their readings of the lesser known, but no less interesting Piano Quartet No. 2 in A major (Opus 26) and Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor (Opus 60). How closely these musicians listened to each other, and how spontaneously Brahms’ melodic outpourings appeared to pass from one to the other. For this listener, the A major Quartet was the highlight of the afternoon, the string tone sensitively blended and balanced against Andsnes’ rippling pianism, particularly in the raptly beautiful nocturne that is the beating heart of this music …”



Source: Chicago Tribune