New recordings by the Takács Quartet on Hyperion have become important landmarks in the musical calendar. This second disc of Brahms string quartets looks set to repeat all the commercial and critical success of their first.
It took twenty years for the famously self-critical Brahms to release his Op 51 string quartets for publication. Despite frequent requests, they were held back until they had reached his requisite standard of perfection. It is clear that Brahms’s struggle with the string quartet medium eventually led him to find an intensely personal language for it, with an unmistakable originality of melody and texture. Op 51 No 1 is both suffused with great musical richness and organically unified, with each idea growing with unerring logic out of the last in a process of continual development, and the main subject of each movement clearly arising out of the same germ.
Having hesitated so long over his first two string quartets, Brahms managed to produce their successor, Op 67, without any protracted birth-pangs, and the fact that the new work was dedicated to a well-known physician prompted him to elaborate on the medical analogy. ‘I am’, he told Theodor Wilhelm Engelmann (the husband of the pianist Emma Brandes, and himself a keen amateur cellist) ‘publishing a string quartet, and may need a doctor for it (as with the first ones). This quartet rather resembles your wife—very dainty, but brilliant! … It’s no longer a question of a forceps delivery; but of simply standing by. There’s no cello solo in it, but such a tender viola solo that you may want to change your instrument for its sake!’