Brahms By Arrangement Vol. 1

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Toccata Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms By Arrangement Vol. 1
WORKS: String Quintet in F minor (reconstructed by Anssi Karttunen); String Quintet in B minor
PERFORMER: Krysia Osotowich (violin), James Boyd (viola), Richard Lester (cello), Zebra String Trio


In the earlier part of his career Brahms occasionally struggled to find the ideal instrumental forces with which to convey his ideas. The First Piano Concerto was initially conceived as a sonata for two pianos and then transformed into a symphony before becoming a concerto. The Piano Quintet experienced an equally problematic evolution. It started life as a string quintet with two cellos, a version which never saw the light of day after Brahms accepted criticism from his colleague Joachim that the work was not sufficiently idiomatic for strings alone. Brahms recast the music in two versions: one for two pianos, the other for piano and strings.

Cellist Anssi Karttunen of the Zebra Trio has done a heroic job in attempting to recreate the work in its original guise. Certain passages such as the intensely chromatic introduction to the Finale work marvellously but elsewhere, particularly in the congested textures of the first movement and scherzo, the performers have to grapple with the sheer density of sound.

No such problems arise in the composer’s viola transcription of the Clarinet Quintet. Arguably, the viola actually brings even darker emotional resonances to a work suffused with melancholy and world-weariness.

Although there are some moments of speculative intonation, these vivid and clearly recorded performances offer fascinating perspectives on some very familiar music.


Erik Levi