- String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 51/2
- String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 51/1
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Even more than his other music, perhaps, Brahms' music for string quartet inhabits a knife's edge between formal control and stark emotional intensity. Just as with his symphonies, Brahms entered into a dialogue with his predecessors in the three string quartets and one piano quintet recorded here: the works are intricate even beyond the composer's usual standards, but the performers can't lose sight of the content. England's Belcea come close to the ideal balance here. You could sample anywhere, but for a compact chunk illustrating this remarkable quartet's talents, try the opening movement of the "String Quartet No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 67." A lighter approach to the rhythmic complexities of the movement's basic thematic material is possible, but the tension the Belcea players introduce seems a preferable match with the metrical irregularity. You might also prefer a bigger role from pianist Till Fellner in the "Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34," but the perfect ensemble balance and attention to detail throughout this performance are hard to beat. That balance and sense of ensemble are present through the entire double album, and fine sound from Alpha is a bonus. This is a major Brahms chamber release.