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.
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.
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