Not autumnal, not reflective, not reserved, and definitely not restrained, this coupling of Brahms' two string sextets may seem to some to be at best wrong-headed and at worst simply wrong. After all, isn't Brahms the composer for whom the adjective autumnal was coined and to whom the adjectives reflective, reserved, and restrained are reflexively applied? Yes, but that doesn't mean all of Brahms' music is autumnal: he was young once, too and the expansive and exuberant young Brahms is emotionally far from the reflective, reserved, and restrained composer of later years.
Haydn himself was in a particularly heightened state of awareness when he commenced writing his Op. 33 String Quartets, even going so far as to suggest in a letter to music-loving friends that these quartets were 'composed in an entirely new and special way'. It had been ten years since he last wrote for the medium (his Op. 20), and he had learned many things since that time, producing a series of wonderful symphonies and a number of operas.
With the proliferation of more and more recording labels and still more ensembles getting the opportunity to record their work, it is obviously increasingly difficult to bring anything truly original when performing works from the standard repertoire. Unfortunately, this fact may lead to some questionable performance decisions in striving for originality. Such seems to be the case with the Leopold String Trio and Marc-André Hamelin and their performance of the Brahms piano quartets.
The venerable pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio joins the Emerson Quartet for two memorable performances. To the uncommon clarity and rhythmic drive of the string players, Menahem Pressler adds some of his own expansive personality. The mix works beautifully. You can hear every note in the scores, and everything is played with great expression and enough rhythmic tension to keep the music flowing.