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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Piano Concerrto #1 in d, Op. 15 (1859) [53.19]
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 (1881) [10.01]
Silke-Thora Matthies, Christian Köhm, pianos
Recorded at Clara Wieck Auditorium, Sandhausen, Germany, 7 September 1996
Notes in English and Deutsch. Biography of performers, no photos.
Four Hand Piano Music Volume 9
NAXOS 8.554116[63.20]


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These arrangements are not included in Brahms’ collected complete works; they were produced by Robert Keller, and then, to an unspecified degree, "corrected" by Brahms. Even with performers skilled and committed as these are, the first movement of the piano concerto does not come off awfully well in this format. As you might expect there are lots of pounding chords and heavy growling piano tremolandos imitating the orchestra. Those passages in the original where the playing of a motif by the orchestra is contrasted by the same motif played by the piano here become merely repetitions. A wider stereo perspective would have helped here, separating the two pianos right and left, providing spatial contrast to compensate for lack of textural contrast, but the perspective on this recording is tight, with the two pianos both centred.

Although I am often very positive in my reviews of piano reductions of orchestral music, I was about to write this disk off until the slow movement began, and — what a wonder! The adagio comes off very beautifully here, as if it were Brahms’ finest piano sonata! No wonder he very nearly left the work in this form, instead of proceeding to orchestrate it. Here a wider stereo stage wouldn’t have helped and might have been distracting.

The last movement is much more successful than the first because here the orchestral part is less "monumental" and the pianos have an easier time of simulating it. The Academic Festival Overture is a more rhythmic and incisive work than most conductors play it, so it actually benefits from piano reduction and comes across quite well.

It is important to point out that these are piano duets, not four hands on one piano as the cover suggests. The distinction is important: in a "four hands" at a single keyboard arrangement, somebody plays all the high notes and somebody else plays all the low notes. The notes in between have to be fought over. While there may be some communicative advantage in the two pianists rubbing against each other frequently while playing, from the technical musical standpoint this distraction could only detract from the accuracy of the music. In a piano duet version both pianists can play high notes and both pianists can play low notes at the same time without restriction and counterpoint in one register can be played as elegantly as need be by all four hands. Communication is usually accomplished sufficiently by having the pianists sitting facing each other, although some piano duo teams are seated side by side.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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