RECORDING REVIEW | Brahms | Kirschnereit, Neudauer, & Amaryllis Quartet | "Kirschnereit and the Amaryllis Quartett are lucid in the Op. 34 piano quintet...present a heart-warmingly memorable alternative sensibility."

Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
Frei aber einsam
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, op. 5 (1853) [36.38]
Scherzo from F.A.E. Sonata, WoO2 (1853) [5:15]
Piano Quintet in F minor, op. 34 (1864) [41:53]
Matthias Kirschnereit (piano)
Lena Neudauer (violin)
Amaryllis Quartet
rec. 2017, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300929BC [41:33 + 41:53]

Among the composers who jointly created the F.A.E. sonata as a birthday gift for the violinist Joseph Joachim was the young Johannes Brahms. F.A.E. stood for Frei Aber Einsam (‘free but lonely’), an acronym that was particularly meaningful for Brahms, since he was to live a bachelor’s life committed to music. Three notable minor-key works, including Brahms’ Scherzo from the F.A.E. sonata, are presented in this recording.

The Scherzo in C minor is a very turbulent work. Matthias Kirschnereit and Lena Neudauer make a fine partnership, and despite the briskness of the timings, their playing is surprisingly steady in effect. Compared to Mutter and Orkis (DG) or Tetzlaff and Vogt (Ondine) who impose the strong contours of their personalities on the music, their unvarnished sobriety is truthful and fresh.

Composed in the same year as the Scherzo, when Brahms was around twenty years old, the Op. 5 piano sonata bears the unmistakable stamp of youthful vigour. Under Kirschnereit, the statement of the F minor opening theme is confident rather than shocking. Avoiding the thick-brushed grandiloquence of Lupu (Decca) or the fluidity of Kempff (DG), Kirschnereit employs a controlled, yet forward-driven, momentum. While the slow movements - each accompanied by a poem or title, thereby defying Brahms’ reputation as a classicist - adopt a sleek cloak of elegance and detail, this may disappoint those who expect more of a ‘suspension of disbelief’ approach, as with the repose of Arrau’s expansive reading (Philips).

Kirschnereit and the Amaryllis Quartett are lucid in the Op. 34 piano quintet, a piece in which Brahms is at his most daring and eerie. Subtle in dynamics and soft at the edges, the playing has an air of warmth and lightness about it. Even in the rugged Scherzo, their lyrical instinct rarely goes astray, and the Finale, despite its unease, is rounded out with an assured sense of wholesomeness. Particularly distinct is the integrity of the Amaryllis Quartett’s natural sonority, which highlights the symphonic scope of the work. Whereas the Emerson Quartet with Leon Fleisher (DG) are purposefully dramatic and the Belcea Quartet with Till Fellner (Alpha) are angularly expressive, Kirschnereit and the Amaryllis Quartett present a heart-warmingly memorable alternative sensibility.

The total playing time is short for a double disc release, with each disc running to just under 42 minutes. One assumes that the project was initially planned as a single disc. In that context, the failure to record the F.A.E. sonata in its complete form is disappointing, especially given the paucity of recordings of the complete sonata. Nevertheless, Kirschnereit and Brahms is the main agenda, and given the merits of this recording, there is little reason to complain.

[The article was originally published on MusicWeb International]

Young-Jin Hur