WORKS: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor (transcr. Schoenberg); Vier ernste Gesänge; Chorale Preludes, Op. 122/7 & 8 (transcr. Leinsdorf)
PERFORMER: Olle Persson (baritone); Norrköping SO/Lü Jia
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1140
When Schoenberg first thought of orchestrating Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet, his idea was to create as Brahmsian a sound as possible – to give the world, in effect, another Brahms symphony. But he soon realised he couldn’t do it, and so opted for an enlarged, colour-enhanced late-Romantic orchestra, with an array of percussion Brahms would have boggled at. The result is a strange but wonderful hybrid. If you can forget the ‘Brahms’s Fifth’ tag, it can be very enjoyable on its own terms, and Lü Jia and the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra make a strong case for it, with the emphasis on intense, broadly phrased Romantic expression – Brahms as post-Wagnerian.
The orchestrations of the Four Serious Songs and two Chorale Preludes by the conductor Erich Leinsdorf are in some ways more idiomatic, but they’re also much plainer. As an orchestrator, Schoenberg may not have been a Brahmsian, but he was a genius, and his imaginative flair continually enlivens his arrangement; Leinsdorf’s tend to sound drably functional in comparison. Still, baritone Olle Persson is powerful-voiced and richly expressive in the Four Serious Songs – worth hearing for him alone, and the orchestral writing is certainly never obtrusive. Recordings are first-class. Stephen Johnson