CD review: Brahms string sextets

First published in the Guardian on 11 May, 2017

Brahms: String Sextets
Mandelring Quartet/Glassl/Schmidt (Audite)

Brahms held off writing string quartets in his 20s: maybe he was nervous to touch the venerated form that Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven had all made their own. He would get there eventually, but first he turned his hand to the ultra rich and gutsy textures of the string sextet — standard quartet plus extra cello and viola. A recent recording of both sextets fronted by the Capucon brothers went for litheness and brilliance; this account from Germany’s long-standing Mandelring Quartet with violist Roland Glassl and cellist Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt is more august, more hefty, with stately tempos and broad, well-fed textures. It’s fine ensemble work, no doubt, but an autumnal sound for such youthful music, and to my taste it overdoes the gloop and solemnity. If you’re of the school of thought that all Brahms is essentially melancholy and thwarted desire then it might be for you.