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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Works for Piano Duo

Sonata for Two Pianos, op.34b in f-minor (1864) [40:29]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Quintet, op.44 in E-flat major (1854?) [30:00]
Begoña Uriarte; Karl-Hermann Mrongovius (pianos)
rec. Radio Nacional de España, Estudio Música 2, Madrid – November 2006
ARTS MUSIC 47597-2 [70:35]


Rediscovering familiar, great music is always a wonderful affair. Whether through a stunning performance of a war horse or, perhaps an orchestration or reduction of a familiar work. Liszt’s piano versions of the Beethoven symphonies are one, another is Schoenberg’s way with Brahms’s Piano Quartet, and Reger’s own organ sonata can’t be scoffed at, either.

Brahms is also involved in this ‘rediscovery’ of a work. If his F minor Sonata for two pianos sounds familiar, it’s probably because you know it in its later incarnation, the Piano Quintet op.34. The liner-notes of the ARTS Music release with Begoña Uriarte and husband Karl-Hermann Mrongovius make it seem as though this sonata was part of his general trend to transcribe all his works for piano/four hands or two pianos. But this sonata is not a derivative from the famous Quintet, it is its predecessor and second version after he had not been satisfied with his first attempt of turning the material into a String Quintet. There are ways in which this music is eminently suited for two pianos. Far from being a mere study for the later, more famous work, or a slimmed-down version of it, it stands on its own solid legs - six, I suppose. It is not so much a ‘curiosita’ to have in one’s collection, but a legitimate sonata next to the truly great 20 finger works of Schubert.

Whether played with the Pekinel Sisters (Warner) or Matthies-Köhn (Naxos), or Argerich/Rabinovich (Teldec), or Bronfman/Ax (Sony), it is always good to hear. What sets the Duo Uriarte-Mrongovius version apart from the competition is their inclusion of Schumann’s Piano Quintet E-flat major, op.44 in the two-piano version. This is not to be mistaken for the Brahms transcription of the E-flat major Piano Quartet, op.47. For one we do not know the source of the transcription – although it was very likely Brahms, too. This, too, works well enough in its - not so - new guise, though I feel it offers fewer insights or novel perspectives into the original as the sonata allows into its final form. It seems scarcely enough reason to for which to seek out this disc. 

It would be, as it were, the only reason to think about acquiring this disc. Not because the piano duo does not perform ably, evenly, flawlessly. They do all that – and occasionally with emotion, too. But the squeaking of what must be a wheel - or more - of one of the grand pianos is caught on tape throughout the recording. You would have to have a very mediocre stereo system to miss this over speakers – and via headphones it makes this disc nothing short of unlistenable. How this could have escaped sound engineers Jesús Garrido and Eduardo Pérez de Mora or editor Raffaele Fiorillo is beyond me – but they have essentially produced a recording that was "dead on arrival" (DOA).

Jens F. Laurson



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