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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Hand Piano Music Vol. 14
Piano Quartet No 2 in A Op.26 (Arr. composer for Piano Duet)
(i) Allegro non troppo [14:37] (ii) Poco Adagio (iii) Scherzo: Poco Allegro (iv) Finale: Allegro [9:16]
Five Waltzes Op.39 (Arr. composer for Two Pianos)
No 1 in B [1:00] No 2 in E [1:21] No 11 in B minor [1:16] No 14 in G# minor [1:12] No 15 in A flat [1:44]
Silke-Thora Matthies, Christian Köhn (piano(s))
Rec. Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany, October and November 2000. DDD
NAXOS 8.554821 [52:24]



This interesting-looking series, much of which has been reviewed on MusicWeb over the years, has reached volume 14 without impacting on my consciousness; but I am glad that it has eventually. Brahms made piano arrangements for four hands, on one or two pianos, of many of his major works in order to increase accessibility. These include the Symphonies, Serenades, Hungarian Dances, quite a lot of chamber music and, remarkably, the German Requiem. One could argue that the need for them is no longer there but great music is great music in any format. Listening to works you know well in different arrangements has generally been surprisingly worthwhile in my experience.

Regarding Brahms’s piano quartets, of which there are three, it is worth mentioning that the first was arranged the “other” way i.e. for orchestra, by Schoenberg thereby underscoring the symphonic element of the music; Simon Rattle recorded that about twenty years ago. The second quartet is an even more substantial work, of almost 46 minutes here despite tempos that are generally spritely. It is among the finest chamber music Brahms wrote despite his relative youth, the original having been completed in 1862. If you don’t know the work, my advice would be to start there, perhaps with the Beaux Art Trio who play all three piano quartets on an excellent Philips Duo. The piano arrangement played here dates from 1872.

Brahms ‘arranged for the piano’ seems not to be to all tastes - previous discs in the series have received reviews with varying degrees of enthusiasm. If a work for larger forces is to be played on the piano, then considerable virtuosity and musicianship is a pre-requisite for success. It is notable that no one seems to have suggested that the playing of Silke-Thora Matthies and Christian Köhn is other than at a very high level. A long established duo, they play as one and it is hard to imagine the quartet being better done in this arrangement. They certainly capture the breadth of Brahms’s inspiration and the variety of moods. I particularly enjoyed the finale. This bounces along joyfully to a high-spirited conclusion that is no less satisfying for absent strings. They are given a recording of an appropriately high standard with most natural piano sound.

The Op.39 Waltzes, of which there are sixteen, started life in both solo piano and duet formats and are said to be fiendishly difficult to play solo. The complete set for piano duet is already part of this series. The five played here were issued by Brahms’s publisher for two pianos in the year of his death and they make an attractive series of brief encores. The series is presumably nearing completion - it is worth noting that this recording was made nearly five years ago. On this evidence it seems well worth exploring. Despite rather short measure, volume 14 would be a good place to test the water.

Patrick C Waller




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