Conviction aplenty from this rising young French quartet

Agate Quartet: Brahms

The Strad Issue: March 2024

Description: Conviction aplenty from this rising young French quartet

Musicians: Agate Quartet

Works: Brahms: String Quartets nos.1–3; Romanze op.118 no.5 (arr. Agate Quartet)

Catalogue number: APPASSIONATO APP003 (2 CDS)

There is clean, crisp playing at the opening of Brahms’s First Quartet in C minor, and the staccato semiquavers that follow are neat, almost delicate. The legato passages are sinuous and, as at the end of the exposition, rhythmically free, after which there is sterner stuff to come in the development. Following the warmth and gentle charm of the Romanze, the third-movement Allegretto is steady and mysterious: the players do exactly what Brahms marks, and do it very well, semplice, piano, with little accents and hairpins and a constant throbbing pulse. The fierce opening octaves of the finale herald more turbulent emotions than we have had so far, leavened by poco tranquillo and meno mosso passages which are significantly slower.

The first movement of the A minor Quartet (no.2) is contemplative and steady, with a delightfully limpid second subject, its beguiling 3rds a mere step away from the coffee house. Later there is an arresting rhetorical gesture, dramatically slower and pre-empting the ritard poco a poco by five bars. The outbreak of F sharp minor in the second movement, disrupting its easy flow, is stark and steady. The Minuetto is bleak, cousin to Schubert’s organ grinder, and the Allegro finale mixes nervy anxiety and grace.

The Agate’s penchant for steady pacing is also apparent in the first movement of the B flat major Quartet, not quite as Vivace as Brahms presumably had in mind, but with earthy energy. Leader Adrien Jurkovic shapes the opening of the Andante beautifully, and violist Raphaël Pagnon produces robust playing in the following Agitato, before the stately Poco allegretto finale. The recording is clear and warm.