ALBUM TITLE: Brahms Piano Quartet Op. 25
WORKS: Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 (orch. Schoenberg); Schoenberg: Accompaniment to a cinematographic scene
PERFORMER: Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Marc Albrecht
CATALOGUE NO: 5186398 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Like London buses, first none come, then two at once. Schoenberg claimed that his orchestration of the Piano Quartet in G minor – or ‘Brahms’s Fifth Symphony’ as he jokingly dubbed the result – was provoked by the fact that the original was rarely played, and usually in a badly balanced way. Of course, he was a far more volatile spirit than Brahms, and the ever-shifting colours of his orchestration, complete with tambourine, glockenspiel and xylophone, surely exceed anything that the older composer might have used, even had he lived into the 20th century, as Schoenberg speculated. Yet the scoring does bring out the symphonic sweep latent in the chamber original – of which, fortuitously, a new recording also appears this month, reviewed on p94.
Of the two new versions, Marc Albrecht and the Netherlands Philharmonic are a tad deliberate in Brahms’s opening Allegro and the Warsaw Philharmonic under Jacek Kaspszyk better capture the turbulent ebb and flow of its elaborate structure. Odds are more even in the plaintive scherzo in which Schoenberg’s orchestration most nearly reconstitutes the Brahms sound. But the Netherlanders are more ardent in the songful slow movement, more upbeat in its central march, and far more exciting in the headlong Hungarian gypsy finale. In the more ample tempos of the Warsaw reading, these movements tend a little to lose cohesion.
The choice is also complicated by the recordings. The Pentatone sound is slightly recessed but with clarity and depth. The Warsaw acoustic is more reverberant, tending to add an edge to the more brazen tuttis; and in the rather plodding fill-up account of Schoenberg’s intricate scoring of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat ‘St Anne’, some of the more delicate detail gets lost. The Netherlanders add Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a cinematographic scene – a 12-tone tissue of expressionistic frissons and frights. But it makes for a rather short-measure CD. Bayan Northcott