The Strad Issue: December 2015
Description: A faithful approach to the score mutes the drama of Brahms’s op.51
Musicians: Quiroga Quartet
Composer: Brahms

Over the years, Brahms’s first two string quartets have become tarnished with so much ‘interpretative insight’ that the Quiroga Quartet’s unaffected performance of the C minor Quartet at first struck me as lacking in loving affection. Yet every detail in the score is faithfully reproduced, with tempos that are well chosen and never lingered over. Maybe the dramatic aspects that Brahms intended in the outer movements are rather smoothed over; the momentary gaps performers insert to add impact are no longer there, and I miss the familiar spinning-wheel effect created by tweaking the pulse of the third movement.

The Quiroga’s A minor Quartet is very different, the bold and dark mood of the opening contrasting with a gently lyrical approach to the central section of the first movement. Rubato is used to shape the long phrases in the second movement, and the scherzo’s perfectly judged ‘wispy’ moments bring a charm that spills over into the finale. Pushing the pulse forwards, this highly desirable performance closes with a pleasing vivacity.

Throughout both works, the Spanish-based ensemble produces a beautiful tone combined with an unblemished technique, the short Volkslied ‘In stiller Nacht’ coming as an encore. The sound quality and balance between instruments is admirable.