Bach/Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Bach/Brahms
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Prelude and Fugue, BWV 552; Chorale Preludes, BWV 631 & 654; Piano Quartet in G minor
PERFORMER: Houston Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68658 2
In arranging the G minor Piano Quartet Schoenberg intended ‘to remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he lived today’. In our authentically-minded age, it is hard to believe that he failed to register the contradiction; but he certainly achieved his goal, which was ‘Brahms’s Fifth’. Sometimes the diversity of colour reaches well into the 20th century, but it is a transcription by a master of the Romantic orchestra. Indeed, the pudding may seem over-egged (whooping horns, Wagnerian tuba, muted brass, the brilliant gypsy finale raising shades of Carmen): don’t listen too soon after a good, original performance.

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The Bach arrangements are more adventurous, and less likely to offend precisely because there is no aesthetic contact between Schoenberg’s orchestra and Bach’s organ. The colour is brighter, but the concept no more intrinsically bold, the brass writing no more resonantly anachronistic, than in Elgar’s orchestrations. The St Anne Prelude, BWV 552, is rhetorically portentous, its contrasts exaggerated by articulation of attack and colour. The orchestral virtuosity is admirable in the transparent fugue and thoroughly engaging chorale preludes. Julian Rushton