Sunday, May 18, 2008

Brahms: Piano Quartets #1 and #3

Today's disk is one of my all-time favorites. I affectionately call it "old man" because of the picture of a somnolent Artur Rubenstein on the cover.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor

Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor

Artur Rubinstein and the Guarneri Quartet
RCA, 1988, originally recorded 1967
I'll confess, it took some getting used to for me to appreciate these chamber music works. First, I'm a trumpet player, and know less than nothing about stringed instruments or the piano. Heck it wasn't until I got this disk that I figured out that a "piano quartet" wasn't four pianos playing together (it's actually a string trio--violin, viola and cello--accompanied by piano). Second, most beginning listeners, when they think of classical music, think of the symphony as its primary form.

But spend 40 minutes listening quietly and closely to Brahms' Piano Quartet #1 and tell me it isn't one of the most beautiful, complex and emotional works of music you've ever heard.

Each movement of these two Piano Quartets has palpable tension that rises and falls throughout the piece. Brahms can create emotion in a small ensemble that rivals any composer using the full arsenal of a symphony.

While undeniably pleasant to listen to, this music is also complicated and challenging. It might take you a few passes to really get your arms around the key melodies and themes in each of these two works. But just remember: one of the great pleasures of listening to great music (of any kind) is that you are rewarded for repeated listens.

Brahms wrote three piano quartets; this disk contain exceptional performances of Quartets #1 and #3. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't offer my particular recording, so I've linked below to a well-regarded CD (as well as MP3's) of the complete Piano Quartets performed by the Beaux Arts Trio. If you're interested in getting to know these profoundly beautiful works, feel free to click either link to head over to Amazon.

A brief note on MP3 files: Be aware that typically, each MP3 file represents only one movement of a given classical music work. Thus there are four "tracks" to each piano quartet. Clearly, the powers that be didn't have classical music in mind when they developed the MP3 format. However, the link directly below should allow you to purchase the entire album in MP3 format with one click. Below that is a link to Amazon to the same recording in traditional CD format.

I'm also experimenting with a new Amazon widget (over on the right side margin) that will also help you to purchase MP3s of more of the music I discuss on this blog. Please tell me what you think!

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