BRAHMS: Complete Piano Quartets = No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25; No. 2 in A, Op. 26; No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60 – Walter Trampler, viola/Beaux Arts Trio (Menahem Pressler, piano/Isidore Cohen, violin/ Bernard Greenhouse, cello) – Pentatone Multichannel SACD, RQR Series PTC 5186 151, (2 discs: 72:49, 48:38) ****:

There is a good deal of competition out there in this repertory, from names such as Artur Rubinstein, the Budapest Quartet, The Takacs Quartet, Emanuel Ax, Alexander Schneider, Isaac Stern, and Yehudi Menuhin.  But none of them are in hi-res surround, not all are all three quartets, and these four performers were among the best back in l973 when this was recorded in 4.0 quadraphonic by Philips in Switzerland. The four tracks were mixed down to two for standard LP release, and are still available in a double-disc Philips reissue, along with a posthumous Piano Trio in A as filler. Meanwhile the quad master tapes sat on the shelf waiting for future resurrection as a workable and dependable surround sound format – which quad was not. (Shades of deep-freezing people for future resuscitation…Except that these tapes sound none the worse for wear.)

The standard CDs sound a bit distant in the pickup, but the four-channel RQRs are just right, with a fine impression of the music theater where they were performed and recorded. The players don’t completely surround the listener as with the Tacet surround discs, but then most people find that a bit extreme anyway. The music is Brahms in his most Romantic chamber style. Every movement has at least one strikingly lovely melody in it, and the Beaux Arts players bring out the beauty and liveliness of the music.  The heroic-sounding theme of the Rondo alla Zingarese last movement of No. 1 couldn’t be anyone else than Brahms, and the composer’s predilection for gypsy music is heard in the last movement of No. 3 as well.  No. 2 was given Disc 2 to itself because its movements are all somewhat lengthier than in the other two quartets.  It also abounds in interesting rhythmic tricks which are brought out by the Beaux Arts’ precise playing.

— John Sunier