Schiff himself is, perhaps, a musician who plays too much too often. His particular strength is a kind of stamp-and-go rhythm, full of the swing and lift of the dance. In passages of inward emotion, sweet lyricism or grim seriousness he is less convincing; you sense that he is bored with the sheer mass of music he is called on to perform.
You would expect, therefore, that the Piano Quartet in G minor would fare well. There were plenty of gypsies in the finale, heavy-booted and akimbo, and the opening allegro drove forward, weighty and firm of centre, as though breasting great waves. The whole ensemble had a density and body, grounded in the forceful playing of the violinist Erich Hobarth and the cellist Boris Pergamenschikow.
The other piano quartet - the one in A major - was played by a different group, including the violinist Yuuko Shiokawa and the cellist Mikls Perenyi. They were a serious, committed bunch, but they played with disciplined energy rather than unbuttoned wildness. Perenyi had earlier played the E minor Cello Sonata with a fiery intensity and projection that gave monumental strength to the fugue in the finale.
Shiokawa, also, played a solo, the Violin Sonata in G major. She is a very different kind of player. Her instrument has an icy tone that matches her coolly impersonal style. Her emotions are somehow abstract, and she plays every note with a level, mechanical vibrato that alienates the music. It is a clean and modern style, but it seemed wrong for Brahms.
However, of the soloists, the most bewitching was Elmar Schmid, who performed the Clarinet Sonata in F minor as well as taking part in the Clarinet Trio, Op 114. It was easy to believe that Richard Muhlfeld, for whom Brahms wrote these works, sounded like this. The notes materialised like coloured glows, curling heavenward without human agency, coalescing into a faint aura of soft fragrances like a magic spell. Here was a musician who truly had something to communicate, a sort of Gandalf of the clarinet.
Brahms also scored the clarinet sonatas for the viola, and the F minor was played by Nobuko Imai on that instrument, with a violinist's eloquence and agility. There were also two piano trios. The heart-on-sleeve B major, Op 8, suffered from Shiokawa's pinched tone in the high register, but the C minor, Op 101, was delivered with real ferocity, the violinist (Hobarth) actually leaving his seat at times.Reuse content