Album Review: Brahms – Tones of Romantic Extravagance/ Ironwood


Ironwood, the Australian period instrument specialist ensemble has released a sumptuous new double album Brahms – Tones of Romantic Extravagance (ABC Classics), featuring two of Brahms’ major chamber works, the Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor opus 25 on disc one, and the Piano Quintet in F minor opus 34 on disc two. The album certainly lives up to its name with a performance that is lavish in Romantic ideas and lush in its sound.

Performing the piano quartet are violinist Robin Wilson, violist Nicole Forsyth, cellist Daniel Yeadon and Neal Peres Da Costa on the pianoforte. Violinist Rachel Beesley join the ensemble for the piano quintet.

From the very opening bars of the piano quartet, it is evident that the musicians have created something immensely special, shedding new light on these chamber works that are so symphonic in their conformation. Ironwood’s elite musicians and meticulous research underpin the performance. The gut-stringed instruments and the replica of Brahms’ own Streicher and Sons grand piano add to the unique sound and the historically informed realisation of two canons of the chamber repertoire.

Both works are substantial in size and complex in content. Each lasts nearly three-quarters of an hour in performance on this album. The precise and expressive readings of the diverse themes of the G minor quartet validate the ensemble’s versatility. The quartet opens with an unashamedly romantic Allegro enhanced by the use of stylistic portamento; the second movement (Intermezzo) exudes tender yearning; the ensemble takes the third movement from a chorale-like motif to a rhythmically driven march before breaking into the unbridled fire and abandon of the Rondo all Zingarese with a fabulous piano cadenza and tempestuous coda.

With the deeply profound F minor Piano Quintet showcasing a variety of string-playing techniques, the ensemble places its heart firmly on its sleeve, driving the brooding opening of the first movement (Allegro non troppo) towards a poignant sweetness. The second movement, played with sweeping lyricism moves to the Scherzo which alternates between introspection and grandeur before culminating in a noble and labyrinthine Finale with its elements of counterpoint.

This album makes for excellent listening. The performances are outstanding and the integrity of the musical values is unquestionable. Added to these is an intangibility that is born of the musicians’ deep understanding of each other in performance and of the music that they play. It is more than sum of parts.

Brahms – Tones of Romantic Extravagance is accompanied by a substantial booklet with robust and scholarly referenced notes giving detailed insights into the history of the music, performance practice, the instruments used and musician biographies. The cover painting is Max Lieberman’s  Bathers on the Seashore.  Hazy and impressionistic it invites the listener to step into the water and be immersed in the waves of music.

The piano quartet was recorded in November 2015 and the quintet in March 2016 at the Eugene Goossens Hall of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Ultimo, Sydney.

If the chamber music of the Romantic era is your passion then Brahms – Tones of Romantic Extravagance is an erudite performance by experts and a worthy addition to the collecrion.

Shamistha de Soysa or SoundsLikeSydney©


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