Brahms: Piano Quartet in G minor (arr. orchestra), etc

Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martín (Ondine)

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CD_ODE13142_Brahms

Brahms • Parry
Brahms (arr. Schoenberg): Piano Quartet in G minor; Parry: Elegy for Brahms
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martín
Ondine ODE 1314-2   53:13 mins

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Schoenberg’s 1937 orchestration of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet continues to divide opinion. For some, it’s a magnificent and imaginative realisation of a work that in its original form already sounds like orchestral music. Others, however, are less sympathetic, claiming that the textures are too thickly drawn, especially in the louder moments of the score, and that Schoenberg’s decision to add E flat clarinet and xylophone to the orchestral fabric distorts Brahms’s intentions, since such instruments were never used by the composer. Perhaps sceptics will change their minds after listening to this beautifully-recorded version.

In utilising the relatively modest-sized forces of the Gävle Symphony Orchestra, conductor Jaime Martín succeeds in bringing far greater textural clarity to the orchestration than many other recordings using a fuller complement of strings. The most obvious advantage comes in passages such as the powerful central section of the slow movement which can so easily sound bloated, but is here projected with lightness and a good sense of forward momentum.

The orchestra masters many of the technical difficulties posed by Schoenberg’s writing in the first three movements and deliver some very expressive playing especially in the lyrical second movement ‘Intermezzo’. However, ensemble is somewhat stretched by the formidable demands of the Finale ‘Rondo alla zingarese’ where the panache and virtuosity of Rattle’s Berliner Philharmoniker (on Warner Classics) outshines all other recorded versions by some distance.   Nonetheless, there is much to enjoy here, and the coupling of Parry’s short Elegy for Brahms, written as a heartfelt tribute to the composer in the year of his death, is performed with great eloquence.

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Erik Levi