would appear this disc has sat on the Naxos shelves awaiting
release for a full five years. Perhaps the company does not
think it important. After all, the booklet notes appear to be
their house notes on the original Sextets with the briefest
of addenda regarding the current arrangements.
it not for the dedicated playing of Matthies and Köhn, it might
be easy to justify this. In fact, the two performances here
demonstrate piano duet playing of the first order. One misses
the true legato of stringed instruments. Right at the very opening
of the first movement of Op. 18 - i.e., the first thing you
hear, is a good example of this. Yet one becomes involved in
the listening experience because Matthies and Köhn make such
a point of following the music's structural contours. Only occasionally
does one feel that this is a obviously a reduction, however.
slow movement is famous in its own right., a series of D minor
variations. It could be grander than Matthies and Köhn see it.
Essentially, one should be made more aware that great things
are afoot, and that is not the case here. Much better is the
Scherzo - Allegro molto, very light, cheeky and jocular, in
a rounded, bearded sort of way, while the finale retains a lovely
sense of flow.
G major, Op. 36 immediately reveals the limitations of the transcription.
An oscillating two-note figure, so appropriate to strings, merely
sounds awkward here. The loss of string colour is also felt
acutely around the eight-minute mark, at which point we really
are listening in black-and-white as opposed to, at least, the
sepia autumnal Brahmsian colours of the string original.
time it is the Scherzo that comes second, a movement in which
Brahms seems to want to imitate the Mendelssohn of A Midsummer
Night's Dream. Matthies and Köhn are at their best in this
movement, with some moments of real magic.
the Scherzo works as transcription, the same cannot be said
of the Poco Adagio. It is very well played here, but this really
does sound like compromise, the bare lines of the opening, for
example, needing the legato (again) and the intensity that solo
strings can give. The repeated-note gala that is the finale
includes some glittering, delightful playing although, again
because of the reduction, it does seem to go on rather.
hearing in some respects, then, not least for the intense musicality
of the Matthies and Köhn team. The recording, by the way, seemed
much better on speakers than on headphones, gaining substantial