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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor, Op.25 [39:23]
Piano Quartet No.3 in c minor, Op.60 [32:05]
Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op.26 [49:02]
Enrique Bagaría (piano)
Josep Colomé (violin)
Joaquín Riquelme (viola)
David Apellániz (cello)
rec. 2016, Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Mozart, Zaragoza, Spain. DSD.
Reviewed from 2-channel SACD layer.
EUDORA EUD-SACD-1701 [71:32 + 49:02]

Piano Quartet No.1 in g minor Op.25 (orch. Arnold Schoenberg) [45:41]
Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel Op.24 (Orch. Edmund Rubbra) [25:35]
London Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 1988/89, St Jude on the Hill, London
Reviewed as lossless download with pdf booklet from chandos.net.
CHANDOS CHAN8825 [71:16]

Piano Quartet No.2 in A, Op.26 (Orchestrated by Kenneth Woods, 2008-2015, rev. 2017) [49:15]
English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods
rec. 2017, Wyastone Concert Hall, UK
Reviewed as press preview.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI6364 [49:15]

My sole, rather feeble excuse for not reviewing the Eudora 2017 release until now is that I was hoping that it would become more widely available in the UK and US. Dealers seem to have only the mp3, if at all, but the SACD can be obtained from Eudora – here – at £13.00 when I checked.

The classic performance of all three Brahms Piano Quartets from the Beaux Arts Trio with Walter Trampler comes in the form of a splendid bargain on a Decca Duo twofer (4540172, with Piano Trio No.4 in A, Op. posth.). For a more recent recording there’s Marc-André Hamelin and the Leopold String Trio (Hyperion CDA67471/2, with Intermezzi, Op.117, also on CDS44331/42, Brahms complete chamber music, 12 CDs at super-budget price – review). In view of the limited availability of the Eudora, enjoyable though the performances are, UK readers are best advised to stay with one of these more readily available and more generously coupled recordings. Neither matches the SACD availability of the Eudora but the Hyperion, which costs only slightly more than a single CD on disc or as a lossless download, is well recorded, as is the Decca for its age.

Both the Schoenberg arrangement of the g-minor quartet on the older Chandos CD and the more recent version by Kenneth Woods of the A-major on Nimbus are different animals from their originals. Indeed, it’s best to forget the original, especially in the case of the a-minor where Schoenberg’s arrangement tinkers with the scoring more than Woods’ more Brahmsian arrangement of its fellow. With glockenspiel and xylophone prominent and cor anglais and bass clarinets in the mix, Schoenberg effectively updates the music to his own day, as if Brahms had still been alive in 1937.

Rubbra’s orchestration of the Handel Variations and Fugue is much truer to Brahms’ own style and I enjoyed this rather more than the Schoenberg. Overall, despite the attractions of the Handel Variations, Neeme Järvi’s well-paced performances and a recording which still holds up well, the Chandos would be a more attractive proposition if it were to be reissued at mid-price.

Best of all, however, is the new Nimbus recording. If anything, the A-major is a stronger candidate than the g-minor for quasi-symphonic treatment, especially as the orchestration is more idiomatic than Schoenberg’s. With very few exceptions, the music works very well in its new guise – try the opening of the first movement where the piano is morphed into a quartet of horns and any part of the finale – and it receives a persuasive and enjoyable performance from the English Symphony Orchestra directed by the arranger.

The ESO may not be in the world’s top flight but you would need the Berlin or Vienna Phil to do much better. As Gary Higginson wrote of the ESO and Woods in reviewing another Nimbus Alliance CD, of the music of Philip Sawyers, their sheer commitment is admirable.

My press preview, in wav format, brings out all the strands of the music. Though I’m surprised to see that no-one seems to be offering a 24-bit version of a recording made at 192kHz, the sound quality, coupled with an informative set of notes from Woods, detailing the gestation of the orchestration, rounds off a release recommendable in every respect except for the very short playing time. The 10% discount for ordering via MusicWeb offers a softening of the blow, however.

In summary, the Eudora SACD of the three piano quartets in their original guise is less attractive than the more generous alternatives on Decca and Hyperion; the Chandos remains attractive but would be more competitive at mid-price, while the convincing version of the A-major on the new Nimbus is the most attractive of the three.

Brian Wilson




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